Exitential Trauma, and the Importance of Bridging Brands

So here's the scenario.

You've created a product you believe in, built a company around it, and wrapped everything in a beautiful brand - website, logo, advertising, even cute little gewgaws to hand out at trade shows.

The brand reflects your vision perfectly - it truly makes you proud. Even better, it wasn't created in isolation. At every step of the process, you consulted people you trusted. You didn't rest until everyone lit up like a Christmas tree.

When you launched, sales were, umm, not quite to expectations. But these things take time, right?

A year or two passed. Sales improved, but modestly. Gnawing questions started to wake you at 4am.

As you began to question your product's viability, you committed yourself to finding out why people weren't buying. Instead of getting subjective feedback (asking people you knew, doing focus groups or online polls) you hunted down cold hard facts with a tool that enabled you see the exact words people were typing in when searching for products like yours.

What you discovered made you pale and woozy. All the language you'd been using to pitch your offering? Pretty much nobody was typing those terms into Google. The vocab you loved wasn't the vocab they loved.

Still, you weren't in a mood to argue. You picked a few terms that passed your gut check, incorporated them into your website, and almost immediately saw an uptick. It felt like you'd put a different lure on the line, and the fish began nibbling.

Now comes the hard part.

Old brand doesn't equal new brand

Tweaking website language is easy. But what about rethinking your brand to align it with the website changes?

You've honed your pitch and speech. Written blog posts. Given the office a fresh coat of paint so it looks like your logo. Do you just dump it all, and chase the new direction?

No. You bridge your brand so it works in the "real world" as well as online.

Bridging brands

Tweaks, tests and optimizations are the reality of online brands. "Bridging" brands means you bring all the elements of your "real world" brand into alignment with the tweaks you've done online. Preferably without skipping a beat.

I speak from experience, having built that bridge for myself.

For years, I chased the vision of becoming the futureproof brand expert. I loved the term. Audiences at conferences loved it. Love, love, love.

Unfortunately, it didn't get a single call from prospective clients. Turns out nobody who was paying loved the idea, and when I looked at the search data, all I heard was crickets... not a single search for futureproof brands.

When "perplexed" turned into "panicked", I got a few close clients and colleagues together, and asked them what they thought I did best. Connecting dots, simplifying complex issues, and adding a twist of creativity was what they said. Search research backed their assertions.

Really? I was pitching futureproof (cue trumpet fanfare), but my most saleable quality was making things....simple (cue balloon deflating noise)? It was a comedown, to put it modestly.

How I did it

After the shock, however, I realized my original vision and this feedback did align on several fronts. The most important being that futureproof brands started with alignment between company vision and deep consumer need (dot connecting). Phew. No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Happy news. The tweak - both online and offline - is reinvigorating my job. I've written a book that fused the concepts together. And I'm launching a full court press of blog posts, speaking gigs, and a new website. Even have a new logo that excites me (it's the cover of my book, if you want a peek).

I've bridged from the brand I originally created to the brand that needed to be created. And executed it consistently across every touchpoint.

Can you do it?

So what happens if you discover the brand you have, and the brand you need, are two different things? How do you bring all the elements of your brand into alignment? A few words of wisdom:

  1. Relax. Chances are, this is an evolution, not a revolution.

  2. Get perspective on what you stand for vs what your target audience seems to be looking for. The search insights tool I used really helped on this front. So did going through it all with an outsider I trusted. Seeing things objectively is key here.

  3. Hunt down points between the offer and the need that align (or dots that connect, as I say). Does connecting those dots fundamentally alter the essence of your brand, or just expose a new side of it? I'll bet it's the latter.

  4. Do an inventory of all the elements of your brand. Website, blog, adwords campaign, stationery, sales brochures and packaging, posters, trade show booths. Do NOT modify them all.

  5. Instead, pick a piece that you can tweak easily, and align it with your favourite term from online search. In my case, it was the focus of my blog.

  6. Assuming you too are going with your blog as the first element to tweak, start writing posts that push your new focus. Run them. Pump them through your LinkedIn groups and put out a twitter campaign. Are they getting retweets? Are people commenting? Are the fish taking the new bait?

  7. If in fact you've landed on an angle that seems to be getting traction, tweak the other elements of your offering to match. Your website, for example. Knock up a placeholder, modify your site, and get it live.

  8. At every juncture, take time to reflect - and assess. I use the search insight tool regularly now because it lets me stay on the pulse of how audiences are phrasing their searches for what I'm selling. Don't be afraid to tweak, tweak, tweak.

  9. Accept the fact this test and tweak process is your new reality (it's actually an old reality in the tech world, but that's another story). Once you get your head around the fact, you might actually start to enjoy the journey. Especially if the ongoing tweaks come with an ongoing rise in the sales curve.

  10. Don't let go of the vision of your brand. Sure, dress it in new ways, have it use different words, but only in extreme circumstances should you consider retooling what your brand stands for. You don't want to be creating something you don't believe in. And in nearly every case, you don't have to.

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