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January 2, 2013

Brands and Challenges

As trends progress and change with the demands of our audiences, brands must be able to adapt and evolve to accommodate to not only survive, but thrive. Questions on a recent brand-chat discussion brought up some very good points of how a company handles the challenges of building its image effectively.

Product Innovation

Consider some of the best practices of a brand that reinvents its product. What must they do to accomplish this and how does it ultimately affect their image? Soda companies have been around for a very long time, but have always managed to keep their image and products current. While the brand is the same, there is constant improvement and evolution of these products. The goal is to adapt and apply their brands to popular trend rather than trying to change their brands to match the trend.

Under the leadership of Steve Jobs, Apple reinvented its products and how it applied to the current demands of the generation. The brand was the same, but the image changed from simply producing technology to producing technology that was desirable to its audience. At the same time, Apple worked to enforce the purpose of the brand, which, ultimately, is the challenge.

Timing the Changes

What key advice would you give a client about the “timing” of reinventing or fixing his product and promotion? This is a unique question in that it is incredibly difficult to answer broadly. Depending on the product’s trend cycle, you would have to consider that what is popular today may slip away tomorrow. You must know your audience well, especially their demands and desires. You should only change as a response to customers, not as a response to competition or personal desire. Rebrand because you need to in order to appeal to your audience. Lois Martin once stated: “Carefully consider and plan. Is it a reinvention or simply an update? An expansion? An invite to a new market?” When reinventing and innovating, you must take into consideration what your goal is. Are you upgrading a format, fixing an issue (patching programs or promotions)? Or are you introducing a new line that will draw a new audience?

Defining a Spokesperson

A spokesperson is one of the most beneficial tools to creating audience appeal. How can a brand handle a created spokesperson’s (a non-celebrity) rise to celebrity status? There is something unique about a created character because while you can make the character do what you want, you also have to work to build his or her image, which means it’s up to you how successful your spokesperson will be. The primary priority should be to align his or her values with those of the target audience. The task is to create a personality that your audience can relate to, not just speak to. When an audience can relate to someone, they begin to develop a relationship and word-of-mouth marketing takes place. People talk about characters they can relate to. There is always the other side of the coin – at what point does a spokesperson or character begin to draw attention away from a brand? When presented improperly, you can end up with an audience that recognizes a spokesperson but can’t relate him or her to the brand. That is the other task of developing a character. He or she must not only relate to the audience, but must also relate to your brand in the minds of the audience.

Brand Image Controversy

What are the best practices of handling controversy? Perhaps the most prominently renowned brand image that had to overcome their controversy was BP and how they handled the gulf oil spill. They acknowledged the accident and quickly became involved in cleanup efforts. Best practices include avoiding any hesitation and being direct. Be personable. You never know when controversy will strike, so it’s good to have a personable image that people already enjoy doing business with. You shouldn’t wait for a problem to arise before you address it. Always admit controversy, don’t hide it. This is the first step to turning it around to your advantage. However, you must also be entirely transparent about the situation. An audience will want to know how your brand is addressing the issue and what is being done to prevent it in the future.

Brands are often challenged with keeping its images current with the audiences’ desires and trends but, at the same time, they must also hold onto what defines the brand. Ultimately, the task is to create a brand that is renowned for delivering products and services that customers want.

Maria Elena Duron, CEO (chief engagement officer), buzz2bucks | a word-of-mouth marketing firm, is skilled at making networks “work” and harnessing powerful online and offline buzz. She facilitates online visibility services and word-of-mouth coaching and workshops – taking companies and professionals from buzz-worthy to bucks-worthy,