When I first considered ‘Branding in a new landscape’ I have to admit I struggled. A ‘new landscape’; what does that even mean? Well, it could mean a million things. What’s new to one person may not be to another. What the landscape is for one of us will differ to the next person. So, I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture. In doing so I realised that there are two vital truths hidden in that phrase – truths which I believe must inform how we consider brand and branding.
For the purpose of this article (and clarity), let’s say that ‘branding’ describes the act of creating and encouraging things and ideas which we hope will shape a brand. And that the brand is actually shaped through the accumulation of a series of moments that people remember and associate with one another, and by which we aim to encourage desired reactions and actions.
New – change is constant.
Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher said, “Change is the only constant in life.” There will always be the ‘new’ – life is found in the dynamism of change. The same is true for brand – if the brand is what is shaped or created then it’s not a static entity. Brand is emergent – constantly in a state of evolution, of coming into being. The most successful brands are those which have evolved over time in order to remain relevant. Take LEGO, for example – what began as a company selling toy bricks has now developed into a platform inspiring creative play. From this premise they’ve built themeparks, created products (for kids and adults), empowered communities, formed brand partnerships, and even made a feature film. The brand continually evolves, around the core of inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow.
Landscape – context is king.
Brand is shaped by the landscape around it. Competitors’ actions, audience behaviours, market forces – they are all external forces which shape the brand. The landscape is constantly moving, and so if your brand remains the same what is really happening is it’s moving backwards. A parallel taken from the world of science is the Red Queen Hypothesis – an evolutionary hypothesis which suggests that organisms must constantly adapt and evolve, not to gain an advantage but simply to survive in an ever-changing environment and against ever-evolving opposing organisms. Its name was derived from a statement by the character the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ – “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
The list of brands which became irrelevant by not moving with the times is a long one – Woolworths, Tower Records, Kodak, and Blockbuster to name a few. The Blockbuster story is particularly pertinent because they were actually offered a massive opportunity to move with the times. In 2000, Netflix approached Blockbuster with an offer to buy the company for US$50 million. Blockbuster management turned the offer down, saying Netflix was a "very small niche business”. In 2020 Netflix had 195.15 million paid subscribers worldwide and revenue of US$20.16 billion.
Branding in a new landscape?
So, how do we work with branding in a new landscape? We appreciate that change is constant and so our brand must always be in evolution. We must always be ready to develop the brand, to move with the times; not get set in our ways just because something has worked for us before. Alongside this we must appreciate that the context within which our brand exists will in part shape the brand, and so we must always be ready to adapt our strategy and approach should the context demand it. If the landscape moves, and we don’t move with it, we’re in danger of being left behind and becoming irrelevant.
A brand is a dynamic entity that continually develops through time from the relations of multiple agents, ideas and things. For branding this means always keep evolving your approach, and always keep an eye on the ever-shifting sands of your brand landscape.
By Paul Bailey
Strategy Director at Halo – a brand-first agency in the UK.
20+ years professional experience in brand diagnosis, strategy, realisation – improve experience, empower culture, achieve business objectives.