Is Your Brand Running Wild?

When to put branding on the strategic agenda

A few years ago, I took a pleasant after-dinner stroll with a good friend. I was visiting her summer home, and as my host, I asked her to tell me about the nighttime creatures we might confront on a warm, still evening such as this. “Owl,” she said. “Also, unclaimed kittens, noisy fish puncturing the lake’s surface, or a skunk in the flower patch to our left.”

I could duck the owl, I thought. Or coo to the kittens, shout at the fish… “but what’s the protocol around the skunk? Do we walk by and wave?” I asked.“Freeze until it leaves? Run the other way?” I was suddenly on high alert. We were darn close to that flower patch.

“I’ve learned to just take my cues from the skunk,” she said. “Typically they tell you what they want. You need only pay attention.”

Brands can be a bit like that. You want to pay attention and act before things get messy.  If you’ve recently noticed that the brands your organization have built or collected are asking for a bit of face time, it may be time to put a brand initiative on the strategic agenda.

Truly, a brand can be used strategically despite an attentive moment, particularly in maintenance mode. That’s one reason so many schools cover brand management so fully, and brand strategy so parenthetically. But when the customer, company, competition, or climate starts to shift, brand management may not be enough.

Here’s a short list of indicators to escalate the branding conversation to the strategic agenda:

  • You have tried bundling, cross-selling, packaging, or combining many brand assets, but the market opportunity is larger than any of those.
  • Others are taking credit for what is unique to your brand.
  • A collection of informal decisions around a brand deserve more formal credit.
  • There’s been a fundamental shift in the way customers consider their options.
  • You’ve picked up additional markets, and they seem unfamiliar.
  • Your executive team says it’s time to combine historically incompatible assets into one portfolio.
  • A bunch of things in the brand portfolio feel force-fit.
  • Reliable routines around managing the brands no longer seem intuitive.

Per that last item on the list, a reminder: good strategy makes most decisions feel intuitive. The same applies to branding.


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