In what life stage is your brand? Fun or death rattle?

You know them… outdated companies that have no intention of wanting to change until revenues and profits are seriously decreasing. The organisation changes too late and causes its own demise, resulting in the brand’s ‘death rattle’.

Irish born, Les McKeown, advises CEOs and business leaders on how to achieve sustainable growth. He is famous for developing the seven life stages of a company. Let’s apply these stages to your brand. Perhaps it will confirm that you are on the right track, or suggest that it’s time for a brand renewal.

McKeown’s recommendations mainly relate to processes and leadership, but are also good to apply to your brand. Let’s see what the seven life stages mean and how they relate to building and maintaining your brand.

1. The early struggle

This phase is characterised by a search for resources and customers. This is an exciting time for any entrepreneur, in which it becomes clear if the company, having started with great ambition and passion, will make it. You have one chance to make a good impression. Therefore, make sure that you have a professional online presence; this is not the time to be frugal. Ask yourself if your brand positioning is distinctive, your proposition is innovative enough and your offering meets a real need. This is the time when you learn whether or not customers buy your brand and how they buy your brand. You can influence this by providing the right content to the right audience at the right time, thus matching with the phases of the buyer’s journey. It is also crucial to optimise your organic visibility.

2. Fun

In this phase several so-called “big dogs” will emerge: employees who strive for the utmost and make a difference. Myths and legends about the organisation are created, making the company successful and letting it grow, but the complexity also increases.

This complexity is reflected in the management of your brand. Therefore it is important that your brand asset management is well organised. Your brand is much more than just a logo! The perception of your brand in the eyes of your customer is determined by your vision of your market, the behaviour and skills of your people, the quality of your services, products and logistics, your internal systems and your communication. In this phase you also want to measure customer perceptions, to make sure that your message is coming across to your customers.

A brand portfolio can be developed when you start offering several services or products. During this process it’s important to align everything and to think about endorsements and brand extensions.

3. White water

This is the growth phase in which your organisation becomes more complex, you experience the first setbacks and the first conflicts between the founder and staff regarding strategy implementation. Your brand asset management is growing, and marketing and sales maybe growing apart. A better balance between structure, systems, processes and people will help to avoid problems.

Your employees play a major role in this stage. The authenticity of your work is diluted in the minds of your employees. Internal branding can ensure that your employees align with your brand identity and continue to deliver the brand promise. In addition, you want to maintain optimum use of all your offline and online channels to continue revenue growth. Therefore you need different competences within your marketing department. Good employees grow with you, but do not underestimate the importance of new people or training to meet the demand for specialisation.

4. Predictable success

The success in this phase will depend on results of the previous stages, partly made possible by the proper control and focus. There is both control and flexibility and, most importantly, a financial buffer to absorb setbacks and losses. An organisation at this stage appreciates craftsmanship, is creative, continues to innovate, dares to take risks and has adequately implemented structure and processes to manage this.

Your brand scores well, but will this remain the case? Is your brand still distinctive enough? Repair the roof when the sun shines. The world around you is not standing still, and the needs of your customers aren’t either. Know what your competition is doing and ensure NPOV’s: new points of view. These can be used to develop new propositions and strengthen your brand. This can possibly result in a need to upgrade the look and feel of your business identity to the modern era.

5. Treadmill

In this phase innovative capacity disappears and the organisation is no longer innovative and enthusiastic. The innovative employees have left, the risk avoiders have remained. Even if you still have a financial buffer, little or no innovation will change your organisation into a rigid bureaucracy with inflexible people. If you see this problem ahead of time, you are still able to shake up your organisation and get back to phase 4. If you don’t succeed, you will inevitably drop down to phase 6.

At this crucial moment brand revitalization is imperative. We need new internal and external impulses to continue. Developing a new vision is a good start; why was your brand created and how does it fit into the current market situation. Do not be afraid to conclude that repositioning is needed. That is the leak in the roof which needs to be repaired, only now it’s raining. Investments and tackling the problems are vital and most important, but cutting back on marketing during this time is the worst decision. Ultimately, you want to introduce a new corporate identity, supported by new services, products and behavior.

6. Big rut

The big rut is a characteristic of this penultimate stage. Staying in touch with customers and the outside world fades into the background and the focus is increasingly internal. Your products or services are out of fashion and that is reflected in your finances. Your winning team is suddenly not winning anymore; the most important seats in your organisation are occupied by people with good working conditions whom will not benefit from changes. It isn’t hopeless, but without a forceful intervention this stage will naturally lead to stage 7.

So, it’s time for a new business model and a new strategy. The old management team may have to leave and make room for new people in the marketing department. A reorganisation is not only desirable within your workforce but also within your brand portfolio. You have to drastically change the brand identity and let failing brands go no matter what your feelings are regarding these brands. The customer experience is under scrutiny. Spare the rod and spoil the child. The time of revitalisation is over, even the name of the corporate brand is no longer safe. A new method of presenting, a breath of fresh air, really everything has to be changed.

7. Death rattle

The process of dying: the organisation comes to an end.
Not just a company, but also a brand has died. Perhaps there is time yet to find a buyer for the brand…


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