Brand Evolution

One of the key challenges facing Marketers is how to ‘create’ brands, and consequently how to build ‘value’ in those brands over time. Yet a brand doesn’t merely come into being. It must ‘evolve’ through stages in a process developing from a ‘Concept’, becoming a ‘Product’ and eventually reaching the status of a ‘Brand’. But it shouldn’t necessarily stop there. A number of brands have moved to higher levels of existence where their scope and influence exceed that of their original intent, appealing to new audiences and moving into new markets; these can be defined as ‘Franchises’. Franchises reflect the commercial scope of a brand, yet there is a higher echelon, one where the brand’s role defines everything that an organisation believes, does and will do, where brand and culture merge to create an all pervasive ‘Vibe’. V4PJ695SSF6Z

The ‘Concept’ is the original idea that has been formed, yet it cannot be considered a ‘Product’ until it is positioned to a market, i.e. a ‘Product’ is anything that is offered to a market for attention, acquisition, use or consumption that might satisfy a need or want. The dividing line between a concept and product is therefore the market interface.

A product is not by right a ‘Brand’, merely because it has been given a name and identity. This is often an aspect of uncertainty and misunderstanding. Many organisations have adopted product or brand marketing teams; to many this is merely a case of semantics, yet there are significant differences in managing a ‘Product’ versus a ‘Brand’ which need to be taken into consideration if those products or brands are to develop and grow. A ‘Brand’ is the promise of a future action or experience that, when kept, creates preference in customers minds. The essence here is that a brand is a promise. It is based on previous experience and thereby necessitates an awareness and understanding by the brand owner of what constitutes that promise: the elements that are expected by the customer to be present in whatever version or form that brand takes. A brand can be leveraged across different channels and products as long as it retains its core equity. Products can have sequels, but it is not until the ongoing promise to the customer has been established that the product, or set of products, can be construed as a brand.

So where does that leave the ‘Franchise’? The fundamental question here is: what’s the difference between a ‘Brand’ and a ‘Franchise’? The two aren’t mutually exclusive – a franchise is a form of brand. A ‘Franchise’ is a service or offering that has already been successful which enters into a continuing relationship with the customer. It is this relationship, rather than just a promise, which differentiates the franchise from brands which haven’t yet reached this commitment in customers’ minds. The relationship dictates a presence for customers that, if absent, would be missed. Franchises are therefore more entwined in customers’ lives.

The model is not a way of ‘pigeon-holing’ properties; it should be thought of as a continuum with some products being closer to becoming brands than others and some brands closer to franchises. More important than the definitions themselves is how do owners move their property between each level – this framework allows us to consider the progressions between each strata, i.e. how do you turn concepts into products, products into brands, and brands into franchises. By looking at the change processes we can develop strategies and tactics to progress a property up the hierarchy and thereby increase its value.

Not every concept will or should eventually become a product; not every product will or should become a brand; not every brand will or should become a franchise. The important consideration for property owners is to create and maintain a balanced portfolio. The danger for brands and franchises in creatively driven industries is for that creativity to wear-out. We’ve seen time and again where brands have become too formulaic in their execution resulting in the overall customer experience being lost through a lack of creativity. It is the responsibility of brand and franchise owners to constantly reinvigorate and reinvent the customer experience, whilst maintaining the core essences that maintain the brand or franchise promise. This is easier said than done. Yet understanding the characteristics, behaviour and transitions of each level in the evolutionary process will help property owners to marry their creative talents with meaningful consumer insight and direction to create innovative, customer demanded concepts, products, brands and ultimately franchises.

There are a multitude of examples of companies who own stables of brands and franchises. But there are a small few companies where the brand has reached such a level of meaning that it defines the company’s existence and forms the beliefs, culture and attitudes of every employee. Apple, Pixar, Virgin, and the BBC are examples where the ‘Brand’ has become a ‘Vibe’. Not only is the franchise relationship a customer-facing external one, the relationship has internalised to define the culture, attitudes and approach to work for all employees. Employees buy into and live the ‘Vibe’ throughout their working lives. A vibe can evolve, as with the BBC, but it can also be created. This must be done from the top down, with inspirational leadership defining not only the ‘values’ of the brand, but also the attitudes and cultural references, i.e. the vibe.

Every brand cannot become an Apple, Pixar or Virgin. But even those brands started somewhere…as concepts.

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