We live in a world of distraction.   Distractions that can shift our focus in pursuit of the 'next big thing'.   This article presents six challenges to modern marketing managers for keeping their brands in fighting fit shape.

Challenge 1:   Going beyond image and avoiding wrapper branding

Still today, there are companies under the impression that a new logo and an expensive advertising campaign will attract customers en masse.  In these situations, branding is focused around the creation of an image wrapper, often hoping to cover the weaknesses of an underperforming product.

A perfect example from recent memory was the logo adjustment made by Yahoo!.   The company made the change after a 36% drop in revenue in the preceding five years.  Merely tuning the logo is a futile exercise for a company in crisis.   The explanation given by the company's CEO for the change was that "We wanted a logo that reflected Yahoo! - whimsical, yet sophisticated, having a human touch.   We wanted a mathematical consistency to the logo, pulling it together into one coherent mark."   It's the exact kind of thing that makes non-marketers think that branding is about 'bull***t and buzzwords'.

The absolute potential of branding to drive growth is only realised when it engages and aligns the whole business to deliver value for customers and shareholders alike.   David Taylor calls this a 'brand-led business'.   In which the brand is not an ephemeral image wrapped, but a scaffold for value creation.   The brand promise needs to be carefully defined.   But the real challenge is to then consistently deliver against that promise.  Especially in a world filled with savvy consumers who have information at their fingertips.

Airbnb's CMO Jonathan Mildenhall is a marketing leader using the brand idea to drive not only visual identity and communication but also a better customer experience. Yes, Airbnb did change its logo back in 2014, not long after Yahoo! did. But the contrast in approach could not be starker. The new Airbnb logo was a symbol of change centred on a refined brand purpose: 'To inspire people to live anywhere in the world (even for one night)'. The brand idea inspired an effective global communication campaign, 'Don't go there. Live there'. This contrasted scenes of conventional tourist activities with scenes showing how you can live like a local if you stay in an Airbnb lodging. The campaign drove double-digit increases in awareness and on key equity measures such as 'Makes me feel I'm part of a community' (+13%), 'Helps me feel like a local' (+13%) and 'Allows me to feel at home' (+11%).

But the brand idea works beyond just communication, being integrated fully into the brand experience. Best practice in the core hospitality service have been identified, unpacked and delivered to hosts in a way that enriches the experiences of their customers. Ideas include responding to booking queries within 24 hours and ensuring guests' ideas for their trip match with the 'hosting style'. The brand has also stretched into offering travel services with 'Airbnb Trips' – travel-related services such as skateboarding lessons and recommendations on cool places to hang out from interesting locals (design bloggers, salsa dancers, fitness gurus etc.). This creates additional revenue for hosts and for Airbnb, but also strengthens the core, by making the home rental offering even more attractive.

Challenge 2:   Follow the money.

According to David Taylor's Brandgym, less than a quarter of companies are basing their social media usage on tangible evidence of business benefits. Even more concerning is the fact that this proportion has barely shifted in the five years since their first analysis.   Considering there is an ever-growing number of social media fads battling for the attention of marketing managers, it's easier than ever to be distracted and considering there are innumerable social media 'experts' proclaiming that brands must be present on all of them or risk extinction.  With this in mind, it's probably not so surprising that the main driver for social media usage in Taylor's research is ' keeping up with the latest trends'.

Matt Bushby faced just this challenge at Just Eat, the fast-growing restaurant delivery business. When he took over as head of growth marketing, there were four separate teams running social media, all chasing 'likes' and 'followers'. Measurement was inconsistent and there was no link to business performance. In a radical reorganisation, all social media activity was consolidated into one team led by Matt.

A unified strategy now focuses on driving 'brand response' to sell more stuff, with measures in place to track the conversion of clicks to orders. Activity concentrates on the key driver of brand growth – penetration – by driving incremental orders from new customers; heavy users are actually filtered out of the activity.

Smart use of social media addresses specific business issues. For example, locally targeted ads promote restaurants in a customer's area. The use of 'dynamic product advertising' (DPA) allows the brand to show a range of different restaurant options, based on what potential customers have expressed an interest in before. This approach has paid off, with social media now driving 16% of total orders and a cost per order below the company's benchmark.

Just Eat also shows how you can build the business and build the brand at the same time – in 2015, the brand found that visiting university campuses and handing out vouchers was proving too costly and instead pivoted to creating an innovative digital campaign – seeking to find six students to be 'chief takeaway testers' for the brand, where the winners would receive £50 of takeaway a month for a year.   The campaign was featured across UK media and generated thousands of applications.

Challenge 3:   Give the brand some flavour.

There are many wasted hours, weeks and even months spent 'polishing the pyramid' – tinkering with a brand in a futile quest to make it 100% perfect.   Where true marketing leaders know to not merely focus on the tool – the brand – but the content of the brand.   Ensuring that the brand's positioning is compelling but also simple and easy to understand.

Essentially, branding needs to be able to convey a story to a populace with ever shortening attention spans.   Marketing managers must now be able to fit a story into a hashtag whilst also being brave enough to inject personality into the strategy, to give it flavour so that customers are left with a sweet taste in their mouths as they walk away from an interaction.

Making a brand appear more inspiring can be accomplished by using tools as simple as visuals or vide, an approach used by Kevin McNair, GB marketing director at Britvic (a British producer of soft drinks), on the recent relaunch of Purdey's, the soft drink: "An old-fashioned positioning document wouldn't have done the job," he observed. "We used a powerful combination of video, impactful visuals and personal briefings." The seamlessly integrated campaign that resulted from the positioning has driven +30% sales growth.

Challenge 4:   Combine emotional stimulation with substance

Many marketers now feel an obligation to create and curate entertaining 'content' that establishes an 'emotional connection' with consumers, irrespective of the product category and the nature of the brand. It's important to remember that not every brand needs to be amusing or entertaining, ensuring content is in tune with the message of the brand should be the priority of promotions.  The risk with the 'sponsored entertainment' approach is marketing that is heavy on emotion but light on brand linkage.

Marketing leaders such as Joy Howard, CMO of Sonos, the brand that is now ubiquitous with home wireless audio recognise the importance of emotional stimulation, but also the need for product substance, based on brand realities. The brand idea, 'Listen Better', is rooted in a superior product experience compared with conventional speakers. Emotional connection comes from the beautiful design of the speaker system and user interface, and humorous communication making fun of the 'listening fails' of more traditional wired speakers or 'docking' stations and challenges the viewer by stating 'You're Better Than This'.

you're better than this

Challenge 5:   Root brand purpose in the reality of the product.

Brand purpose should capture the positive and distinctive role a brand plays in improving everyday life. A common mistake is the assumption that a brand purpose has to be linked to a 'worthy' social mission, however, this is not the case.   It merely needs to highlight the value that a brand offers and should be linked closely to the realities of the product.

This is perfectly highlighted in a recent campaign flop by Baileys.   The campaign 'Make Women Shine' set out to empower women.   A quest that, while respectable, lacked relevance and integrity.  People aren't seeking out Baileys to improve themselves or to make themselves 'shine'.   Research work revealed that what people really want Baileys to stand for is enjoyment.   This, consequentially lead to the brand purpose 'The pursuit of pleasure'.   A purpose that aligns perfectly with the brand and the realities of its product.

That's not to say that brand purpose can't be linked to affecting a social impact, but when it does, it should remain embedded in the product category. A good example of a brand that has done is well is Lifebuoy soap. The brand's purpose is 'To create accessible hygiene products and promote healthy hygiene habits'. The ambition is to change the hygiene behaviour of one billion consumers across Asia, Africa and Latin America by using Lifebuoy to help kill germs and prevent diarrhoea. Great for society but great for Unilever's bottom line too, as many of these billion people are likely to become new Lifebuoy consumers.

Challenge 6:   Grow from the core

The pressure to innovate in search of new growth can lead marketers to stretch the brand into new markets that underestimate the challenges of brand expansion and risk neglecting the profitable core business where the brand has a leadership position.

Tesco is a perfect example of a brand that sought to expand into too many new categories too quickly.   Around 2013, the company embarked on a flawed mission to turn Tesco into a 'retail destination' for customers. Multiple acquisitions stretched the brand beyond the core supermarket business, including Giraffe World Kitchen restaurants, Harris + Hoole coffee shops, Dobbies Garden Centres and Euphorium Bakery. These 'new toys' distracted time, money and attention away from the core, at a time when it was under serious attack from the hard-discounter chains Aldi and Lidl. The core business suffered. Like-for-like UK sales fell in 12 out of 16 quarters, resulting in a £6.4bn loss in the 2014/15 financial year.

Recovering from this spate of brand dilution required refocusing on what the core business does well including selling peripheral businesses, highlighting price/value to consumers, retraining customer-facing staff to provide higher quality service to customers and simplifying the range of products offered, making offerings more relevant.   As a result of this refocusing, sales growth drew earnings up 60% and market share grew for the first time in five years.   Customer trust and NPS feedback also improved significantly.


Turning branding into a force for brand growth is a challenge, but marketing leaders overcome these challenges by blending strategy, creativity and business prowess in the following ways:

  • Follow the money.

Ensure that all marketing activities, including social media, is focused on selling more.

  • Build a business led by the brand.

Employ the brand's power to push the entire business, not just how it looks and communicates.

  • Give the brand life.

Keep your positioning simple, clear and visually stimulating.

  • Root brand purpose in the reality of the product.

Create a brand purpose that makes daily life better but is linked to the realities of the product category.

  • Grow from the core.

Remember and refresh what made your brand famous, both in terms of brand equity and business abilities.