Evolve Or Transform? 17 Brand Factors

Mark Di SommaMay 6, 20133 min

No business these days can just sit pretty. But the extent and nature of changes confuses many. Brands evolve. Or die. But they must also retain something of what consumers know. Or they fade. So which is more important? And how should a brand act, when? I get asked about this a lot. So here are my takes on what must stay and what can go (sometimes):


1. Your good name (in every sense) – it’s the thing people know you by. Unless of course you need to re-engineer your reputation or your old name doesn’t fit what you do anymore.

2. Your purpose – the ways you intend to change the world should remain an inspiring constant for staff and customers (providing it’s inspiring to start with, of course)

3. Your values – only change them if you’re going to make them more challenging

4. Your promises – trust is the basis for any brand’s success. Without that, you’re nothing.

5. Your principles – in today’s transparent markets, transgressions will be discovered. It’s just a question of time.

Consider Changing:

6. The category you compete in – if the current category isn’t working for you, if you can’t achieve breakthrough in that space or if there is a disruption opportunity in another market, look for a different place to compete, or change the business model under which you compete.

7. How others must compete against you – look for ways to shift how you do business so that any reaction from a competitor disadvantages them by forcing them to work in ways and/or places where you have advantages.

8. Where you’re positioned – adjust your market position to put daylight between yourself and others.

9. Who you target – if your current market isn’t buying, go in search of new segments and/or change your current offerings to better meet the changing needs of your customers.

10. Your story – adjust your story to reflect the other changes in your business. Tell people a story that haven’t heard yet.

11. Your personality – to better fit with what people want. Bring an attitude that inspires and excites people.

12. Your language – visual and verbal, to better converse with the people you’re trying to reach. But be aware too that complete overhauls of your identity in low-attention sectors can literally see customers walking past your brand.

13. How people perceive you – use advertising and smart content marketing to give people different perspectives.

14. What you offer people – through improvements, upgrades and limited edition versions of your products

15. How people experience the brand – reach them through new channels and/or change the levels of service that you offer customers

16. How people access the brand – by giving them a value alternative to get them started or by offering them different ways to acquire what the brand offers.

17. What people feel they get for their money – particularly important in budget-conscious sectors. That doesn’t necessarily mean you discount. It can mean you have to demonstrate more actively why you’re worth what you’re worth through added features, improved performance, complementary offers etc.

Evolution vs Transformation

The distinction between evolution and transformation lies in the extent of the changes rather than whether to change or not.

In the course of normal brand evolution, core beliefs and behaviors should remain constant but product lines, experiences and competitive approach need to keep pace with shifts across the marketplace. In this context, brands modernize but within a context that consumers clearly recognize.

A transformation process by contrast challenges the whole premise of the organization and in so doing brings into question every aspect of the brand’s credo by requiring the business to redefine its ‘reason for value’. In this scenario, everything’s up for scrutiny including all the things that you might otherwise keep. The brand becomes something it has never been before by questioning everything it has previously held dear. This pulls the seat out from underneath everyone – but get it right, as organizations like IBM have done on a number of occasions, and new markets literally open up in front of you.

One thing we can safely assume: brands that don’t continue to change to the extent required of them (however radical that might be) must, in time, become extinct.

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Mark Di Somma


  • will novosedlik

    May 6, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Good piece. As brand professionals, we take these things for granted but forget that our clients don’t.

    What’s most interesting about this list is how much of it could be mistaken for business strategy. I’ve recently seen articles about this and feel it’s a good sign. Although it may confuse some clients, it’s instructive for them to see the overlap so that they understand the strategic significance of branding.

    I love what you say about actions speaking louder than words, but would like to have seen that played out more emphatically under the heading of ‘brand experience’ – or customer experience. That, along with the socially-empowered customer, have now become the top priorities of brand owners. Or at least they should be. The old model has never been more broken. Long live the new one!

  • markdisomma

    May 7, 2013 at 3:42 am

    Will – thanks for your thoughts. I don’t think there is a mistake in thinking much of this list intersects with business strategy. In fact, I would say that the strategy of a brand is the strategy for a business. The key decision revolves around the extent of change that a brand is prepared to put itself through in order to remain competitive. Brand evolution is about how a brand competes, looks, behaves and tells its story, but once the decision is taken to transform the brand, that change extends all the way to the business’s underlying philosophy. As Jean-Marie Dru once observed, “Disruption is a powerful tool. It can reignite the ingenious and entrepreneurial soul”. Of course, the very thought of it can paralyse a less confident management team into doing too little and/or too late. Worse still, they can allow themselves to believe they have transformed their brand (and future-proofed it) when in fact they have evolved it.

  • Richard Henderson

    May 12, 2013 at 3:43 am

    Mark, thank you for the executive summary. Its always very informative to read others thoughts on brand and its value to business. The challenge is to apply the good strategic thinking in your article to a project, with a client that is able to understand that brand thinking and brand design are great business empowerment.
    I read a fantastic statement by Mickey Drexler of JCrew in Fast Company which sums it up for me ” What has a company done in the past 5 years that somebody’s noticed “

  • Mark Donington

    May 15, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Great article! Evolution vs transformation is an issue that constantly springs up for brands. As you’ve quite rightly highlighted, there are a number of different factors that decide which route is best. Often, it’s down to the internal decision makers and whether they’re brave enough to challenge the current status quo.

  • MarketingGal

    May 19, 2013 at 9:27 am

    This reminds me of the change Coke tried to make years ago, just to have it flop. They come up with the new Coke and really hit the fan with it. I understand their desire to change and try to improve on their product, but when you have something as old school as Coca Cola, its just not the best idea. Coke learned that quickly and went right back to Coke Classic. I don’t think the change worked out as well as they had envisioned.

  • markdisomma

    May 21, 2013 at 3:12 am

    Thank you Richard, Mark and MarketingGal for your comments. Richard, the Mickey Drexler question is a fantastic one isn’t it, because a brand that goes unnoticed is a brand in decline. Mark – I absolutely agree that internal bravery is the hardest thing to muster and the greatest need for progress. MarketingGal, the Coke/New Coke is a timely reminder that change for change’s sake is no guarantee of success – which is why it’s so important to make informed decisions about how far to extend change in order to remain competitive.

  • Mark Armstrong

    September 28, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    Under things to consider changing, I’d add providing better customer service. You can’t build brand loyalty by ignoring your current customers to always be chasing after new ones. You also have to respect the customer’s authority.

    Today’s customers vent their frustrations on social media. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said: “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.” Customers define your brand– which makes good customer service an absolute must.

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