Corporate branding has changed a lot in the last 10 or 20 years. The ways that businesses reach and influence their customers and audience have adapted and evolved.
In this article I look at the old and the new way of doing things. The images are a quick summary of each of the differences but I’ve added some more details for each one too.
If you’re in a rush you can view a PDF summary of the Business Branding differences.
Branding will always be important for any business.
There will be similarities at scale too. That means that small business branding can essentially mirror that of corporate branding.
Branding isn’t just about getting a domain name, a logo and a website. It’s about creating a trusted, respected and authoritive voice in your chosen industry.
At the same time an established business cannot be static in its chosen field. Customer demands and expectations are in a constant state of flux. Brands need to be fluid and flexible enough to react and pivot quickly.
Every business needs to think carefully about the branding process and how it represents them across every potential touch point with a customer.
Consistency is key!
The way a brand makes a customer feel is vital to their ongoing success.
So, let’s look at the differences in approaches, methods and behaviour that separate ‘old’ and established brands from their ‘new’ and emerging counterparts.
Business Supply and Demand
New brands are responsive to demand and can quickly bring products and services to market. This may come from copying existing brands and offering an improved version. The flexibility of these emerging brands means that they can focus on customer demand and technology trends.
More established brands are driven by keeping their existing shareholders happy. The bottom line is the most important thing and year on year profits and growth factors are more important. The ability to present attractive results ‘to the city’ affects behaviour throughout these businesses.
The demand we talked about above leads to the creation of new products for new brands. The availability of data is a strong factor in determining how big a potential market could be. This allows a much higher ‘degree of certainty’ when designing and developing products. The customer base is already ‘warm.’
Older brands had little data to work from when originally creating and growing their brands. Without access to massive amounts of data or customer research, companies often created products ‘blind.’
It was then down to the marketing department to make it a visible and viable option for a cold customer base. New customers had to be gained and retained with virtually no technological help.
The consequences of creating these ‘blind’ products would often lead to larger portfolios of product and service offerings as the failure rate would be a lot higher.
New brands can go global very quickly. The internet and worldwide connectivity makes this achievable for any size of business. Any small business has the same tools and capabilities as a multi-national company when it comes to the branding process.
Evolving brands can ‘go hard’ straight away. They can market aggressively, using various methods and platforms to achieve mass coverage and media attention. This enables and powers growth.
In comparison, the more established brands would adopt a long term strategy. The absence of any realistic ability to rapidly scale up often meant that a new company would start local and build slowly. The journey from local, to regional, then national and potentially global would take a lot longer.
Spreading the word through advertising and marketing was very much more of a slow burn. Direct mail and visual advertising where the only viable tools to assist corporate branding.
The Decision Makers
Modern boardrooms may not even include enough people to realistically call it a boardroom. The room itself may not even exist! Many modern brands exist with maybe one or two decision makers making all the important calls. However, as growth occurs many companies will then go looking for the experience that is present in more established boardrooms.
The coffee shop culture is perhaps most famous due to the working environment created at Google.
It’s a popular scenario found in start-ups business brands. It tends to have open office layouts, relaxed working environments, hot seating and highly social and interactive communities that encorage sharing and collaboration.
There tends to be little separation, departmentalisation or visible hierarchy.
Established companies tend to follow a very rigid and ‘accepted’ structure in the workplace. The levels of hierarchy are often very pronounced with senior staff occupying the ‘corner office’ and departmental seating arrangements being common.
Tech startups can easily reach billion dollar valuations in todays markets. These unicorn businesses attract funding from venture capitalists, angel investors and successful entrepreneurs.
As these companies grow it is not uncommon for them to go though various rounds of funding to drive growth and finance the acquisition of both people and technology. Financial institutions often provide loans and finance for equity in these fast growth corporate brands.
Older brands worked in a very different way. They were often initially financed with ‘friends and family capital’ or small loans from local banks. Profit would then be used to feed the growth cycle. Financial institutions were less willing to lend to unproven and relatively high risk endeavours.
Emerging brands can spend money and a lot of it. It’s perhaps an unfortunate sign of the times that new businesses (often tech startups) can burn through millions and billions of dollars yet still fail. There seems to be a very limited amount of accountability and liability attached to the failure of these businesses.
It seems that it’s often viewed as a badge of honour for tech entrepreneurs to have failed before succeeding.
Older brands wouldn’t see failure as a ‘get out’ option. The failure of the company would often have disastrous personal consequences and potential bankruptcy implications. Accountability and liability was much more directed at individuals and families than it ever would be in the ‘protective environment’ of modern business.
Business Product Branding
Modern marketing tools and methods can quickly create a viral demand for a product or service. This enables word of mouth marketing to act as a magnet for the product. The exponential potential of advertising can create a massive demand quickly and the customer comes to the product.
Without the advantage of mass engagement technology to communicate with customers, older brands had to create their own ‘viral’ marketing campaigns.
This would often mean a lot of salespeople out on the road with sales samples. Product branding would often occur in a one to one setting and would be a much longer, drawn out process.
As established brands developed, essentially the product went to the customer.
Modern brands have the advantage of being able to access customers quickly. By being an expert in their area they can also find where their customers are, reach out and engage with them on different platforms.
As consumer behaviour shifts and changes brands can benefit from keeping up with trends and identifying new and innovative ways to access customers.
Old skool brands and companies followed a predictable and limited set of marketing methods. Traditional routes to market would be exhausted in order to try and energise brand awareness and stimulate growth.
These brands were probably more ‘stuck in their ways’ and more resistant to change to meet shifting consumer demands and behaviour. Read anything about Blockbuster for the case study on this type of faux pas.
It’s quite clear now that every brand has to be willing (and able) to adapt to survive, Regardless of how long they’ve been in business.
Copycat businesses and brands are not a new concept. Uber was not a new idea. What new brands do, and do well is iterate on an existing idea and deliver it a more streamlined (some might say ruthless) and successful way.
These businesses never stand still for fear of being the next victim. As soon as any brand takes their eyes off the continuous customer feedback loop and fails to evolve, it is doomed to fail.
Competition wasn’t perhaps as cut-throat as it is now for older brands. There may have been 1 or 2 competitors in the market but the ability to improve and consume wasn’t as possible or viable.
Probably the best example would be ‘Coke v Pepsi.’ Two massive brands that have essentially competed yet co-existed alongside each other for decades with a virtually identical product offering. The market size obviously dictates the ability for this type of competition without there needing to be a clear winner that wipes out the ‘loser.’
Blanket marketing is getting easier and easier. It’s becoming much more cost effective too. You can realistically reach millions of potential consumers with one successful social marketing campaign.
Results can be instantaneous. The routes to market are incredibly varied and can be tailored to virtually any product, service or marketplace.
A saturated market does however call for marketing to be more intelligent and creative. The ability to personalise and differentiate are big challenges to be faced and overcome by marketers.
Technology and consumers will hopefully continue to drive these changes and encourage innovative new methods to emerge.
Older brands will have had little choice in selecting their routes to market. Billboards, direct marketing, publication advertising and a mobile sales team will have been championing brand growth.
The growth cycles of some start-ups in the last 10 or 20 years have been frightening. Tech startups seem to virtually expect exponential growth and it’s no longer seen as being out of the ordinary.
Older companies will have had a much more structured and long term strategy for growth that will have been controlled by predictable revenue models and systems.
It’s unlikely that these older, institutional brands would have seen exponential graphs in their boardrooms. The slow and steady approach would have been readily accepted.
The Ability to Pivot
As new brands sprint into life and pursue aggressive launch strategies it’s imperative that they have the ability to pivot. They must be able to change direction, change tactics and even change their products and services to serve a market that’s in a constant state of flux.
The ability to recognise (and admit) mistakes and failures as soon as possible is a more valuable skill than being able to recognise success.
New businesses pride themselves on being disruptive and intrusive. They sometimes have a reckless attitude that gambles on taking chances and pushing boundaries. But they are willing to play this game as the potential rewards outweigh the risks.
They are far from afraid of upsetting existing businesses in their sector and are not shy of going head to head against regulators and authority either. Uber and AirBNB have been both celebrated and vilified for flying in the face of convention and challenging established industries.
New brands are setting their own rules. They are more than willing to fly in the face of convention and sticks two fingers up at authority at the same time!
Corporate Branding for Success
Start-up businesses can be gone in the blink of an eye. Often in the course of a financial year. It’s rare to hear about the ‘small’ failures but the spectacular ones tend to get top billing when they occur.
Although it’s true that failure can happen quickly it’s also apparent that success can come rapidly too. Fledgling companies can be worth billions in a few short years.
It’s unlikely that any of the established global businesses ever talked about an exit strategy. Can you imagine the founders of brands like Coca Cola or McDonalds considering selling to a ‘bigger’ competitor after a few years in business? Never!
These businesses were built on strong foundations designed for longevity and a consistent branding process spanning generations.
More and more modern businesses are valued not on their sales data but on their people data. It seems that ‘usable and retargeting data’ is now a much stronger currency than money in the till. Brands are assigned value and acquired based on their future potential rather than their existing balance sheet.
Money in the bank and the bottom line would always define the success of older, more established corporate brands. The value is in the sales numbers and a more dependable and established customer base.
Following on from the last point, many of the new brands rush headlong towards acheiving a high valuation and a possible exit strategy buy-out.
There is (maybe/alledgedly) some smoke and mirrors behaviour that can lead to somewhat premature acquisitions, IPOs and overnight billionaires but the market will always be willing to take a chance.
Fear of missing out (FOMO) also seems to play a part; venture capitalists and high end investors don’t want to be seen to pass up the ‘next Facebook or Twitter!’
The established companies are here to stay. Can you imagine waking up one day to the news that Coca Cola had been acquired?
Actually, come to think of it, it’s probably not beyond the realms of possibility these days!
Corporate Branding and The Future:
The corporate branding process will never be straightforward. It is noticeable that the rules have certainly become a lot more flexible in the last 10 or 15 years. Some brands are more than willing to make their own rules too!
When a 5 year old company can boast a balance sheet that is higher than the GDP of some small industrialised nations it would be foolish to try and come up with a rule book for a complete branding package.
I think it is true that no matter who you are, how old you are, or how big you are there is one rule that will always put you in a strong position.
Always give the customer what they need and not what you think they want.
That will be, or should be the cornerstone of any brand building strategy. Now and in the years ahead.