Right here, right now – why brand relevance is everything
Not so long ago, branding was synonymous with the big players and rarely related to the mere mortals championing smaller businesses. Brands were static. The aim of the game was for big brands to show their sovereignty by standing for one thing and one thing only, represented in the same way across all touchpoints.
Today branding is accessible to everyone. Brand influences everything, from the LinkedIn profile written from a personal branding perspective, through to the charity that completely reinvents itself, galvanising the masses. All sorts of people now understand branding and its contribution to their business strategy. There’s been a realisation that brands are fluid; not just that they can move with the times, but an understanding that they must move – and quickly.
Branding is no longer about how to resist change, it’s about how to embrace (and even predict) it, for tangible business gains. It’s about tapping into fresh markets through a new agile approach. Crucially, it’s about remaining relevant without throwing everything your brand stands for under a bus. It’s unquestionably a balancing act.
So which brands do it well?
Guinness is a brand that has always had agility buried deep in its consciousness. In the 1960s, draught Guinness was introduced, when the UK market was becoming dominated by keg beers. The company also expanded in overseas markets by brewing in those countries rather than exporting to them – a risky strategy that succeeded in not only overcoming logistical challenges, but enabled the brand to be seen as a native beer by countries such as Africa. Careful brand management has ensured that this has been achieved without sacrificing Guinness’ Irish brand heritage which has remained as strong as ever.
The brand has (quite literally) managed to achieve the best of both worlds. Foreign extra stout (FES) – the version of Guinness created in foreign countries – now accounts for 40 per cent of Guinness sales worldwide, almost entirely from sales in Africa and Asia.
In 1988 the widget in a can was born to cater to the rise in home drinkers. Again, Guinness ventured into brave new territory, at the risk of alienating its purist following, a move which was exceptionally well received and diversified the brand still further. Today Guinness sells an array of product variants sold around the world and brewed in 50 countries. It pioneered its Brewers Project in 2014, off the back of its proclivity for experimentation and innovation, which have long been part of its DNA.
“We are a brewery that’s always been making different beers and maybe it wasn’t always communicated out there,” said Emma Giles, Guinness brand director. “Starting with ales and then moving into porters and ending in the stout that we know today, but along the way we’ve made a lot of other different beers.”
But how has Guinness managed to embrace change without diluting its brand? Quite simply, Guinness has worked extremely hard to retain its brand essence, getting the buy-in of marketing teams worldwide.
Former global brand director, Jon Potter said: “We grow in markets where we have no right to grow. How come? It’s the people. Look at the people who go out there and sell the brand.” Innovation, partnerships and iconic advertising have all played a part in creating a brand that is as strong and unified as it is flexible and relevant to a wide cross section of audiences.
As BMW turns 100, the question is whether or not the brand can stay relevant enough to succeed for another 100 years.
Followers of BMW will have noticed a gradual transformation from car manufacturer to mobility expert, as the brand has extended its influence and authority in a bid to take ownership of mobility as a whole.
BMW has read the market brilliantly, noting that cars as ‘things’ are by nature dispensable as times change and new modes of transport evolve – but that mobility as a simple human need, can never be outgrown. Staying relevant is therefore key to BMW’s very survival.
Encouraged by governments and authorities wanting to avoid worsening congestion, BMW has already started to increase its credibility as the voice of mobility, by building a new travel ecosystem of the future. Its DriveNow ‘cars on demand’ service, a joint venture with Sixt, is now established in several cities across North America and Europe.
And the brand has been prudent enough to realise that if you want to be considered an authority, you need to look, think and act like one. In a recent presentation at the Chartered Institute of Marketing Brand Health Summit in London, Paul Ferraiolo, Director of BMW UK, spoke about how the brand is shifting its focus from selling to educating. Hence the whole customer experience has been rethought. The hard sell on the showroom forecourt is being phased out, in favour of an altogether more Apple-esque modus operandi.
Now customers are to be greeted by geniuses; experts in innovation, not sales. Instead of being sold to, the customer will be educated about BMWs technology. A sale simply becomes the by-product of a better understanding of the brand, and a deeper connection, which should serve BMW far better in the long-term. Only time will tell.