5 Steps to Future-Proofing Your Brand
Your brand’s greatest threat isn’t a competitor. It’s remaining anchored in the past.
If your brand has a strong legacy, you might be tempted to rely upon that history to maintain your strength. But if there’s one thing you can count on in business, it’s that the market will inevitably change — and in order to protect and grow your brand in a changing landscape, you must remain forward-thinking and adaptable.
The travel industry is a prime example of a crowded landscape teeming with change. Both Uber and Airbnb have shown how a disruptive brand can not only impact travel commerce, but also completely revolutionize the way consumers behave, buy and think about travel — all in the span of just a few years.
At ARC, we have seen a major market shift in the past two years alone, largely as a result of changes in airline distribution. We launched our brand recently — in 2016 — but because of changes in our environment, and in our offerings to our customers, we decided it was time to examine our brand and refresh our messaging. This spring, we made changes to ARC’s organizational mission, vision and messaging to reflect our outlook for the future. Our logo and tagline remain the same, but our voice as an organization is becoming more proactive and innovative.
In a changing landscape, it is no longer enough to simply update your brand’s portfolio with regular sales campaigns, new product launches or investments in new media platforms. It’s time to think more strategically and longer-term about the role and prominence of your brand, and even your business model, in light of market disruptions.
So what does it take to future-proof your brand? Consider these five factors to help you think differently about embracing disruption, even leveraging it to your advantage.
1. Make it about them, not you.
I hate to share this news, but you are not the ultimate authority when it comes to your brand.
This is a fairly common misconception. The truth is, while you create your branding, set the tone and craft your company’s messaging, your brand is not entirely defined by your own efforts.
A brand’s strength is in its perception. Your customers and external stakeholders are the ones who ultimately define the quality and substance of your brand. Their perception is what truly matters, because not only are they responsible for the financial success of your company, but they also share their experiences within their sphere of influence.
To future-proof your brand, you have to be an avid student of your customer. By gaining a deep understanding of your audience, you’ll more easily observe shifts in their perception and sentiment around your brand — and you’ll stay aligned with their evolving needs and expectations.
2. Remain deeply rooted, but flexible.
Your brand is not a logo or tagline. What I’ve noticed from my years of experience is that many people think branding involves the following:
- Logos, color schemes and website design
- Brand mentions, links and social popularity
- Ad campaigns and other promotional efforts
While these are certainly valuable marketing tools and strategies, they only scratch the surface of branding.
So, what’s the difference between marketing and branding?
There are many different answers to this question, but I believe that marketing is really a set of processes and tools to promote your business. Your brand, on the other hand, is your company’s identity. Your brand is the message and tone that permeate your company’s culture and guide all the processes of your business.
Branding goes deeper than marketing. Marketing, advertising and all other promotional activities all serve the purpose of communicating your brand throughout the marketplace. Your brand is comprised of your personality, your voice and your message; branding is the process of establishing these traits and attributes.
Branding isn’t the same as marketing; branding should be the core of your marketing strategy. At the end of the day, the true measure of your branding success is in earning loyal customers who become your ultimate brand ambassadors.
To future-proof your brand, you must have a clear identity and voice to fuel your marketing efforts. But you must also remain flexible – and this is key. Great brands are masters of remaining true to their identity and core values while adapting to environmental shifts. This looks different for every company.
3. Keep your brand well-fed and relevant.
Regardless of your company’s sales cycle, the customer experience is ongoing — and every touch point is a chance to reinforce your brand. These touch points take many forms across multiple channels, from social media and website engagement to content and executive speaking opportunities, to customer service interactions and product experiences.
Every customer touch point gives you an opportunity to strengthen your brand. It’s up to you to maximize each of these opportunities.
This is where your content and distribution strategies come into play. Regular content, well written and strategically distributed, continually reinforces your brand voice while delivering value to your customers.
Your brand can also be fueled by thought leadership — the ideas, concepts and vision your company can own and act upon to influence your industry. Thought leadership showcases your strengths, your capabilities and your authority. Thought leadership can manifest in written articles, columns, newsletters or speaking engagements, delivering thoughtful insights that shed light on a subject your customers care about — and it can be delivered by your company’s leadership, subject matter experts or your brand itself.
To future-proof your brand, it’s critical to measure these initiatives to determine the impact of your efforts (and demonstrate ROI). By analyzing your brand perception, audience engagement and growth, you can determine what kinds of content resonate most with your audience.
4. Ensure shared ownership of your brand.
A great brand isn’t just owned by a company’s marketing department. A great brand is fully understood, embraced and lived by every employee.
Several brands have achieved masterful alignment between company culture and the customer experience. Apple, Google and Starbucks are iconic, not just for their products and platforms, but also for their deeply established and well-reputed company cultures and clearly articulated values. When you interact with these companies and their employees, you’ll often perceive a sense of authentic pride and ownership of the brand. You also observe this ownership all levels of the company — from the front-line employee to the C Suite.
Great brands are far more than messaging and content strategy: Great brands are expressed through the attitudes of their people. When brand aligns with company culture, it embodies a remarkably positive energy, which has an undeniable impact on the customer experience.
To future-proof your brand, look inward — observe your company culture, your employees and the work your teams accomplish each day. How well does your company culture align with your external brand?
5. Branding is never done.
The market will always change, and your brand will always have to adapt. Especially in a time where disruptions are frequent, it’s important to pay close attention to your environment and to anticipate big changes — not just in your competitors, but also in your customers.
By continually measuring engagement and impact, as well as experimenting with new ways of communicating with your audience, you can be proactive in anticipating upcoming shifts and opportunities for improvement.
ARC launched a new brand in 2016, which highlighted our greatest strengths as an organization and articulated our value to the industry in an unprecedented way. Two years later, a lot has changed in our environment. The airline distribution landscape has notably advanced, and our role as an organization is shifting. We are spearheading new initiatives to transform the way ARC provides solutions to the global air travel community, leveraging powerful technology and innovative ideas to move our industry forward. Our logo hasn’t changed. Our trusted legacy and core strengths are still very much intact. But our vision for the future is expanding and accelerating.
To future-proof your brand, you must constantly evaluate your environment and think several steps ahead. How quickly and flexibly can you adapt to industry changes and shifting customer needs?
So how will you proactively position your brand to grow and adapt to inevitable disruptions? What matters most to your bottom line is that your prospects and customers have strong positive perceptions, associations and interactions with your brand. It starts with being intentional, proactive and customer-centric.
To hear more about brand management and transformation, join us for our fifth annual TravelConnect conference October 11-12, 2018, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. With keynotes on The Customer of the Future and Igniting Customer Demand, you’ll walk away with fresh perspectives and insights on how to transform your organization.