Brand Simplification in a Complicated World

Over many years of working in the advertising/marketing business, I’ve come to find that many organizations have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. It’s not a fault, really. It’s actually pretty easy to lose big picture over time. We get so familiar and so close to our own brands that it can be hard to step out and look at things through a fresh lens.

Not only that, it’s certainly no surprise that the incredible pace of business today makes it even harder to focus. Marketing teams are being asked to “do more with less,” we are trying to keep up with technology, competitors, ROI accountability, managing new generations of talent, and so forth.

I’ve been reminded lately of the need to think about brand simplification as a result of teaching a marketing class for the University of Kansas Integrated Marketing Communications program. The course is described this way: it “emphasizes how organizations define actual brand problems and attempt to solve them.” I have 22 very talented, working marketing professionals in my class who face a wide variety of marketing challenges every day. One of the main challenges they told me is being able to clearly define who they are as a brand and how all activities ladder back up to that brand. We’ve had a great time over the past few weeks working on this challenge and I thought I’d share some of brand simplification methodologies we’ve been discussing. As in sports, even at the professional level, it’s always important to frequently revisit the fundamentals.

Some great tools if you are interested in revisiting the core of your brand position:

  1. Brand Simple (by Allen P. Adamson) – while a few of the case studies are a bit outdated, this book does a great job describing how to develop a strategic and simple focus for any brand. One of the best lines in the book: “The most powerful brands stand for something different and relevant, of course. But more important, what makes these brands different and relevant is made simple for us to understand.”
  2. Start With Why (TED Talk by Simon Sinek) – Many of you have probably seen this video, but I tend to watch it over and over again. It never gets old. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy ‘why’ you do it.” He uses several examples to demonstrate his point and it’s a great tool to help you explore the “why” for your own brand.
  3. Brand Essence Hierarchy – there are numerous tools and approaches available to help you get to your own brand essence. While it may seem like a basic exercise, I’m frequently reminded of how few companies take the time to develop a real brand essence statement – one that is concise and enduring, and one that provides long-term direction for the brand.  We spent the last two weeks in class working on a brand essence hierarchy. Each student completed a hierarchy for their current company. Several students shared their work with their supervisors, who were very impressed with the work and the approach.  

I encourage you to find the time to think about brand simplification. Even if you think you’ve nailed your brand, revisit the “why” and the “so what” and see if your brand is truly “simple to understand.”  We live in a fast-paced, cluttered, market place of choice. Brands that are made simple will win.


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