Thinking

Brand Adaptability: The Shapeshifters Among Us

August 27, 2018

It’s not just a world of absolutes. Change is the order, a borrowed gene, a distortion that’s not about to disappear. People and the phenomena are both changing rapidly, switching, jumping into what they like, jumping out of what they don’t. Brands used to be absolutes. Wholesome but stubborn, resistant to the slightest of changes and averse to adapt.

But working with the change, rather than resisting it is more important than ever. Read on.

These days, most product and service categories are coping with different kinds of transitions, from a change in consumer tastes and preferences, technology, media usage, to changes in social structures that affect consumption patterns. Through this ever-changing landscape, a brand, whether a start-up or an established player needs to constantly adapt and have a plan for expanding in the future. This is what keeps it competitive, ensures its relevance and drives enduring consumer connect.

Successfully pivoting (ranging from a 180 degree turn in proposition to a slight change in distribution strategy) and evolving is all about keeping your eye trained on what consumers really want, even if it is different from your initial offering to them.

Brands like Twitter, Paypal, IBM often get quoted for reengineering themselves around changing customer expectations. Here are a few other brands that have found new ways to flex and reenergise their brands.

Vuori

Sometime in 2008, 40-year-old Joe Kudla figured not many brands were offering yoga-wear for men. At the time, it seemed that out of 17 million people doing yoga, six million were men, a seemingly large enough demographic that showed immense potential. While he got niche retailers to stock his brand, Joe started experiencing serious cash burn at a rate faster than his revenue growth.

Wondering what was going wrong, the founder set about researching amongst his buyers. The key insight that marked a turn in the brand’s journey was that customers weren’t really using Vuori for yoga. Other activities like running were higher on the activity list than yoga. Turns out that for most men, Yoga is another practise to supplement their overall fitness regimen.

According to Joe, “Our ‘pivot or die’ moment was when we realized that while female consumers might want to identify as yogis, men really don’t.” That’s what resulted in the brand reconfiguring its strategy affecting its positioning to its retail plans. The latter became important as he realised men don’t really hang out a yoga studio (Yes, we women still do!)

Brand adaptability

Screenshot from vuori.com

Since his product quality was well liked, Joe set about revamping the brand messaging around one that was relevant to various fitness activities undertaken by men. From just a yoga wear brand, Vuori moved to a lifestyle brand for men, allowing its male audience to choose how they used the brand and where they wore it.

From 2015 onwards, without changing a single product, the brand became all about ‘activewear, designed with West Coast daily life in mind.’ This new focus seems to be paying off for the brand in terms of expanding retail footprint to sales expectations in excess of $30 million.

Moven

A digital solution designed around a customer pained by his/her never-changing banking experiences, Moven was created in 2011 to help you shop, buy, live and manage your money better. The brand was targeted at the new breed of digital natives who have a different set of expectations from their banks. This whole ethos around Banking 3.0 was relevant to the time when most banks were struggling to manage the curveballs that mobile first user experience brands threw at them.

With digital first orientation, the brand set about building their customer experience around social media and the mobile platform. Links to a customer’s Facebook or Twitter profile to their bank account, allowed for better servicing of their customers, and roll out of support innovations (e.g. peer to peer payments).

Brand adaptability

Screenshot from moven.com

However, using Moven involved a sizeable behavioural shift for banking consumers. From making personal payments by email, text or Facebook, to making store payments using NFC, Moven sought to establish a new paradigm for consumers and banks.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the banking landscape didn’t quite take to this massively disruptive, new-age fin-tech solution.

The brand which started out by marketing its mobile banking app directly to consumers, is now evolving for the future through co-branding relationships with large banks across geographies. Moven now works with banks to bring established institutions into the digital age. A mandate that speaks to millions of consumers who were wary of depositing their paychecks directly into a neo-bank, but actually liked the money management solutions that Moven offered. Building on its strengths of simplicity and understanding real user pain points, Moven was able to adapt and flex ,to create a new relevance for their proposition and find new growth paths.

Western Union 

Long-distance communication was introduced to the world, in 1844 when Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Md.

Amongst the rush of companies trying to capitalize on this revolutionary technology, laying miles of telegraph lines to connect America’s new cities was the New-York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, founded in 1851. Post-merger with competing telegraph networks, the entity changed its name to Western Union.

Brand adaptability

In its heydays in the decades past, Western Union sent out more than 200 million telegrams in 1929. Cheaper long-distance phone service affected growth of a business that was ultimately halted by the advent of Internet. Circa 2006, Western Union after shutting down its telegram business for good, decided to revive in more ways than one its wire money transfer business (started way back in 1871), taking baby steps in the world of online money transfer.

The company has not just survived disruptive new innovations, it has harnessed their power to transform its business model and navigated our fast paced economy. It diversified into offering consumer-to-consumer money transfer, businesses solutions, bill payment services, and stored value options such as prepaid cards. It recently launched a money transfer bot for Facebook Messenger users in the United States to send money to more than 200 countries, across 130 currencies.

With more than 520,000 plus agent locations in 200 countries, Western Union is the world’s largest money transfer service. In 2016,  268 million consumer-to-consumer transactions and 523 million business payments world-wide took place at Western Union.

Yes, telegrams with Western Union don’t happen anymore, but the company continues to lead the multi-currency money-transfer and payments category.

The checklist for building adaptive intelligence in brands 

Some common themes that emerge from these examples and more, about how brands can stay relevant and remain competitive to endure.

  • Being on top of what the customer is looking for : A relentless pursuit of understanding where the customer is at, keeping track of his needs and pain points. Mere gut feel won’t be enough to get clear on what might be going wrong.
  • An ability to go after the right metrics: Tracking the right set of category, business and brand metrics is critical to know the point at which pivoting is the order of the day. Top-line numbers will only tell you some parts of the story
  • A flexible outlook: Sometimes evolving a brand means letting go and moving away from the current core. In service of addressing shifts around them, businesses sometimes need to be ready to change where needed and retain what’s relevant, while at the same time not looking towards the past.
  • Making intelligent choices without being foolhardy: Deciding the course of your brand’s journey requires an objective mindset. Feedback from the marketplace and those around you can be demoralizing. Navigating through it requires knowing where to focus on (i.e. the wins, the mission) and being gutsy about making the optimum choice

 

Building flexibility and adaptability into your brand’s strategy, is equally (and sometimes more) important than just the ability to grow sales. That, is indeed, the master key to ensuring its survival not just today but in the future too.

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