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Do you have a plan for your brand in 2022?

Do you have a plan for your brand in 2022?

“We have a marketing plan for 2022. Isn’t that enough of a plan for our brand?”

Short answer: No. 

Strap in for the longer answer. I’ll lead with a TL;DR for the impatient amongst you:

  1. Revisit your brand fundamentals and revive the spirit of the brand with your team.
  2. Do these revised underpinnings have an impact on your brand expression? Is it time to refresh identity and tone of voice?
  3. Obtain a perception reading from your team and, if possible, from a sample of your audiences.
  4. Assess the gap between your claimed brand values and the perceptions you’ve collected. Devise your 2022 brand strategy around narrowing this brand gap.
  5. Rally your team around the brand, keep it alive, and cement its strengths.

Our brands have collectively taken a beating. We have a whole generation of young people who are coming of age in a time of global crisis. Think of two years of sixth form, or your first two years at university, during which you have been denied most of the usual social interaction.

On top of that, you’ve had a permanent narrative that’s a mixed bag of fear, dissent, conspiracy, and optimism. The ability of our audiences to form and maintain healthy relationships has been under assault – many of us have had to work harder than usual to maintain our relationship with ourselves and with others.

Faced with all this, do you really think that the relationship between an individual and your brand is a priority to them? And we have not touched the possibility of economic hardship, issues with job security, battles with one’s own health, or dealing with the loss of someone close.

That’s a bigger dose of reality than you were prepared for in a blog about brand. But take heart, it is just the context for a more optimistic look at your own brand.

Start with purpose

Your brand has a purpose. 

It’s what keeps you going through thick and thin. 

It is very likely what allowed your brand to survive or even thrive during these times and this is a moment to stop reading for a second and congratulate yourself and the team for making it this far.

If you’re responsible for your brand, you will know that you rarely stop to celebrate its achievements. You think in terms of what could dent its reputation, you do all you can to build its equity, and you strive every day for a consistency between what you say your brand is about and the way your audiences perceive it. 

Celebrate where you are today because you’ve earned it.

Now that you’re done celebrating, let’s go through a few of the steps we can all take to shore up our brand, to consolidate those little (or big) wins, and to take our next steps towards building the brand of the future.

Let’s return to purpose first. 

Why, besides commercial benefit, does your brand exist? 

Why do we do what we do and not engage in a completely different activity? If you have at some point in the history of your brand taken the time to distil this into a concise and meaningful statement, return to it. 

Dig it up and read it. 

And find a way of making sure everyone on the team has it as top-of-mind. Having your brand purpose as top-of-mind is not a passive pursuit. 

Think of an activity or some form of communication that can remind everyone around you why they get up in the morning and dedicate more waking hours to your brand than they do to friends and family. 

It is that important, and matters of this importance take active reminding.

Next up, your brand values

Let’s revisit our values. And let’s revisit these in terms of the uncomfortable context we are living. The likelihood is that our values don’t need to change, at least not fundamentally, but they can be reinterpreted to suit the realities of our time. 

We are, tortuously and sometimes imperceptibly, moving towards a society that is a little more compassionate. 

We are seeing more drive towards being considerate – with ourselves, with our social circles, with the disenfranchised, and with our planet. 

Our brand’s audiences are more likely to resonate with human, compassionate, brands. 

We are, as audiences ourselves, more in tune with the brands that have shown us empathy. 

It stands to reason that we ought to look at our values and to examine them for this genuine display of humanity.

How about Brand Expression?

The third round is our brand expression. 

You remember the downer in my first couple of paragraphs. Don’t you think that more optimistic brands should be setting the tone? Is there a way in which our brands can be beacons of cheer or hope or optimism? Would you not prefer to relate to a brand that brings a smile to your face?

If I were the betting type I’d put a couple of Satoshis on a brighter, more visually optimistic visual style and tone of voice over the months and years that mark our recovery from this crisis. There is always going to be a darker side to the narrative but we have control over our own brands and we can only do what’s in our control.

Let’s get planning

How does this fit in with our plan for 2022? 

It sounds like one of two things – either a task so monumental that we don’t have the resources to accomplish, or one that we can do so little about it might not be worth pursuing.

Think again.

Brand starts on the inside. It resides with you and your team. It is expressed as a result of the collective behaviours of everyone on board. Only then will it be experienced as a collective set of behaviours by your audiences. 

So start with the team.

Run a finger-on-the-pulse exercise with your team. It doesn’t have to be all-encompassing and minutely detailed – what we want here is a reading of the general sentiment. Is there alignment with the brand’s purpose? Is there a homogeneous knowledge of the brand’s values? 

Does the team value the importance of brand-aligned behaviour?  

If you have the time and the resources to do so, gathering a perception reading from your audiences (and desired audiences) will give you a more accurate and useful picture. This creates a snapshot. 

Do it now. 

2022 will creep up on you like a David Cronenberg monster and we have a lot to cover before the new year. Have a look at that snapshot and be brutally honest with it. 

It helps to take adjectives or phrases used by the team (and your audiences) to describe the brand and to cluster them by association so you end up with a handful of meaningful words that describe the state of your brand. Compare these to the purpose and values that you have committed to paper. 

Wherever there is an overlap, you’re golden. Where they differ lies your brand gap. 

And this should form the basis for your 2022 brand strategy.

Addressing the brand gap

Your brand strategy for 2022 ought to address the brand gap between your brand’s perceptions and your ideal place for the brand.

The gaps are usually behavioural. 

While we might be saying that “we’re the most responsive brand in the industry”, if there is no sense of urgency across the customer-facing team we have work to do. If our claim that “we’re a one stop shop for [product category]” is plagued by out-of-stock issues, it could be time to present a more specialised face or to sort out the supply chain before we make claims we can’t deliver on.

In short, the strategy needs to either bring about change within the organisation that can cause external perception to align with your claims or to readjust your brand to the set of values you can actually abide by. Insisting that you’re one thing when you’re not is what creates the swathe of blurred, insipid, or forgettable brands that are around us and that we ignore all the time.

Fun and games

Let’s move onto a couple of easy to carry out and practical sessions to have with your team. 

Brand association

Create a list of nouns from across our lives. 

Include fashion brands and a food item, vehicle type and a famous landmark, a famous person and an item of furniture, etc. 

Make sure each is associated with a deeper personal meaning. 

Then ask quick-fire questions to every member that take the following format:

If our brand were a [sport], what would it be?

If our brand were an [item of furniture], what would it be?

And so on for up to ten different questions. Analysing the results can take a while and is worth the effort. 

You’re looking at your data set in two different ways.

The first is an understanding of the internal alignment to these questions and the second is the emotional backstory for each item. If all the team mentions a sport that’s fast, exciting, and carried out by an individual – snowboarding, base jumping, sprinting, etc – you know that there is a shared understanding of what it’s like to spend a day at work. It is perceived as fast-paced but with little need for teamwork. If some mention a team sport, others go with boxing (high-impact, no teamwork) and yet others mention something like curling or fast walking, then you probably need to work on what it means to form part of your team before you can expect uniform brand-aligned behaviour.

Go into the exercise knowing exactly what each item represents. 

Your fashion brand, for instance, will help understand where your brand is positioned in the team’s mind. The brands mentioned give you an idea of how contemporary, accessible, premium, and audience-relevant your brand is.

Time travel

Pick a time that’s three to five years into the future and describe an event. 

You could pick one of the following examples or devise your own based on your brand’s activity:

  • It’s the year 2024. Our brand is acquired by a major multinational. Which one is it?
  • It’s [today’s date] in 2025. Our brand is the subject of a fantastic news item across all media. What’s the story about?

This will give a snapshot of what an ideal state for the brand would look like within a few years. This aspirational state is a possibility, even if everyone in the room acknowledges that there is work to be done to get there. 

Planning your 2022 brand strategy around this aspirational state that the team has already visualised is a powerful way of getting everyone on board.

For most of these, it could be useful to have the sessions facilitated by someone external to your organisation. This gives you a handful of benefits, the most important being objectivity and to diminish the likelihood of your sessions either devolving into an unstructured moan about what’s wrong with the organisation or a practical conversation about how to bring operational improvement. Both are important but beyond the scope of a brand discussion. Speak to your brand agency. They’ve done this before and will make the most of your efforts.

We are the brand. The brand is valuable.

In essence, your brand is too precious an asset to leave to chance.

We can’t afford our marketing planning to distract us from the fundamental importance of brand. Marketing will give us short-term sales but brand helps us to build long-term, value-based relationships. 

With 2022 on the horizon, we need to plan for a stronger brand. We should start by taking a look at the brand’s fundamentals, move onto obtaining a snapshot of our brand perceptions inside the team and with our audiences, and then create a strategy for 2022 that addresses any discrepancies.

In the same way as Nike tells us to just do something tiny today to make ourselves a better version than the person we were yesterday, we can do the same with our brand. 

Doing the least possible for our brand is better than neglecting it altogether. 

The great thing about it is that we are where the brand resides so most of the work is carried out inside the organization, shoring up the brand by encouraging the team to work as one.

Isn’t that what every great organization is based on?

Once again, in five sentences:

  1. Revisit your brand fundamentals and revive the spirit of the brand with your team.
  2. Do these revised underpinnings have an impact on your brand expression? Is it time to refresh identity and tone of voice?
  3. Obtain a perception reading from your team and, if possible, from a sample of your audiences.
  4. Assess the gap between your claimed brand values and the perceptions you’ve collected. Devise your 2022 brand strategy around narrowing this brand gap.
  5. Rally your team around the brand, keep it alive, and cement its strengths.