Brands Evolve With Faceting Strategy

Jerome ConlonNovember 10, 20156 min

Some experts will tell you that a brand should present a consistent identity and should not change, at the risk of losing its loyal franchise. The risk, however, is that after a period of minor incremental changes the brand will become increasingly irrelevant, and this kind of a static approach ends in the need to radically reposition the brand to catch up with a fast moving, dynamic and competitive marketplace.

Despite the fact that the number of brands in the marketplace has increased by hundreds of thousands since 1990 the Brand still remains one of the most valuable and singular assets an enterprise can possess – thus the importance of managing it with wisdom.

The proliferation of brands has, however, made the management of a brand even more challenging and more critical to the success of an overall enterprise. Remember that, fundamentally, customers choose a brand because of what it stands for, often even more so than for the benefits of a specific product or service.

In the past, brand management paradigms stressed the unchanging quality of the brand. Today, this perspective can seriously interfere with the organic development of the brand. Wise brand managers now realize that it is natural for a brand to change over time, and that it is in the best interest of the Brand to do so, lest it should loose its relevance to its target audience.

So how do you think about managing your brands identity over time? Many believe that change should be minimized to present a consistent identity, and that the Brand should not change, at the risk of losing its loyal franchise. But then, often after a period of incrementally increasing irrelevance, such a static approach ends in the need to reposition the brand to catch up with the market.

This need for repositioning demonstrates that there needs to be a more organic, more natural way to develop the brand without suffering recurring periods of declining relevance.

Evolution Management

One way to think about natural brand development is in terms of “faceting” the expressions of a brand. I can liken this approach to creating a brilliantly cut diamond. A brand with history and dimensionality has various facets, which have been developed and of which key constituents have awareness or familiarity. Marketing against such facets can be compared to allowing key constituents to see the cut of the brand much as one would view a well-cut diamond by allowing the light to shine through it from various angles.

While there is a very visible, primary main face to the diamond, secondary and tertiary facets can also be cut from the stone to provide light and brilliance, shape and symmetry, and contribute value.

A brand with depth is no different from a well-cut stone. Such a faceted approach makes obsolete the days when a brand was a one-dimensional entity.

The primary facet of the stone is the brand’s positioning platform, for it is only through the brand position that the facets can be focused and leveraged. Once the brand has a primary positioning, leveraging the various dimensions of the brand creates additional relationships and allows the natural evolution of the brand to occur. By displaying its varied dimensions to communicate the depth of the brand, the brand secures the space it needs to grow, change and evolve through new expressions of itself. By strategically considering which facets should be shown in a particular situation, we show the brands expression in its most appropriate light, without losing track of its unity – which, by definition, can almost never be shown in its entirety.

All brands possessing a history have many dimensions upon which the brand strategy can draw to present this kind of complexity and richness. Like light reflected through a master cut diamond, the business development strategy should devise ways to portray the brand character and spirit in greater richness, meaning and depth.

Brand faceting as a strategy, can work as an aspect of incrementally refining the brand to produce an evolutionary effect, and to reduce the risk of losing your existing franchise by making an uncharacteristic shift that your customer or other key constituents, present or pursued, doesn’t follow.

Managing the growth and change of a brand has always been difficult, requiring both art and wisdom. Most brands are either over-managed and not allowed to change, or not managed at all and allowed to drift or even languish without strategic guidance or direction.

The real art is to manage your brand in such a way as to respect its natural expression and to let this expression unfold organically. There is definitely an art to this approach and every complex brand handles it slightly differently.

The fact that brands so frequently lapse into irrelevance tells us that there needs to be a more organic, more natural way to manage and develop a brand and to avoid suffering through recurring periods of irrelevance and decline.

Brand Faceting At Nike, Apple And Google

Using this theory of brand faceting let’s take a look at a real world example. Nike’s original primary facet was running shoes. The company then expanded into other sport footwear categories and later into apparel, then followed by sports equipment.

Nike Brand Facet Strategy

In the early stages of growth Nike marketing focused on product positioning. It’s meager advertising budget stressed the technical specs and performance benefits of its running shoes. Then Nike expanded outside of the running shoe category into tennis shoes and basketball shoes as well as cleated shoes in baseball, football and soccer. This expansion caused the brand guardians to consider that it needed to create a clear and distinct sports category personality for the brand. About 15 years later Nike realized that if it were going to achieve its potential as a brand that it needed to open up the access point in its communications to reach consumers who were into more than competitive team sports. It did this by coming up the an umbrella brand positioning theme powered by the tagline “Just Do It.”  There is no doubt that Nike today possesses a stronger more salient, relevant and resonant brand identity because it was able to figure out the primary, secondary and tertiary facets to its brand positioning and overall brand narrative.

In the computer technology category Apple has developed its brand facets in a similar fashion. It started out with product positioning pure and simple. Then as its product line strategy expanded into MP3 players, music services, iPhones and a suite of Lifestyle software products (think Apps) it put the brand under a purpose review in 1998 when Steve Jobs returned to the company. This brand purpose review led Apple to discover a brand umbrella campaign powered by the tagline “Think Different.

By reimagining the brand narrative around the integrated value of its family of products Apple extended its brand positioning to achieve the iconic status of a lifestyle brand through the Think Different campaign.

Apple’s recent iPhone 5S ad campaign “You’re More Powerful Than You Think” introduces another facet of the personal empowerment theme that has been a part of Apple’s brand DNA since the 1990 campaign “The Power To Be Your Best.” By focusing on the human emotional benefits of the iPhone in many different situations, Apple is employing the brand faceting strategy to keep the brand relevant and resonant.

Google’s recent reorganization into Alphabet can also be viewed through the brand faceting lens. Several months prior to the announcement of Google’s reorganization I had analyzed weaknesses in this brands expression. Prior to the reorganization it could be said that Google was primarily engaged in product positioning without a clear umbrella theme or well developed category personality for dozens of different products and services. As such Google had fallen short of its brand development potential.

This topic is explored in greater depth in the recently published book Soulful Branding – Unlock The Hidden Energy in Your Company & Brand, Jerome Conlon, Moses Ma & Langdon Morris, FutureLab Press 2015. This book presents a deep paradigm shift in what the art of marketing & branding can become at the highest level. Few companies have ventured this high up the brand pyramid.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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Jerome Conlon

One comment

  • Jay D

    November 11, 2015 at 5:43 am

    Cool article! I think that if your brand is grounded in human insights that are true, then it never really changes. How you express it may change, and that’s what I think you’re referencing here in terms of facets, but if the core of the brand is built on truth, then it will always be true. If it’s built on fads, styles or trends, then it’s sure to fade and lose relevance over time.

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