Update your brand story and messaging

Organizations and audiences constantly evolve and so should your organizational story and the key messages that build it. Organizations shift business strategies, launch new products and services or expand through mergers and acquisitions. When your organization changes, immediately update your story – and don’t let your spokesperson get caught flatfooted with outdated messaging.

Review and update your brand story and key messages annually to ensure your story is relevant within a constantly changing business environment.  Updating your messaging isn’t a betrayal of your brand heritage; instead you have re-interpreted it in a way that demonstrates continued relevance with today’s audiences. 

Here are a handful of scenarios that may trigger a messaging update:

Shift in Business Strategy:  Best Buy Reinvents Itself

After years of losing to Amazon based on price, Best Buy pivoted its attention to the one thing Amazon could not do: offer personalized advice and service.

In addition to its successful Geek Squad tech-help service, Best Buy began offering a Total Tech Support program that provides unlimited gadget guidance in person as well as online and via phone. It also provides a free in-home consultation for people anxious about complicated purchases like smart-home hardware.

Do you think Best Buy’s leader needed to talk differently about the company to consumers and to the street? Absolutely! Here is how Hubert Joly, the former executive chairman and CEO, described the shift in the brand story:

“We declared that our purpose was to enrich lives through technology. We are not in the business of selling TVs or computers. And we are not fundamentally a retailer. We are in the business of enriching lives by addressing key human needs, whether it’s entertainment, health, productivity, or communication,” said Joly.

The new messaging he uses reorients the listener’s view and impresses upon them the new the purpose, services and attributes consumers now connect with the Best Buy brand.

New Product or Service Launch: Amazon Goes from Books to Everything

Amazon started as an online book retailer in 1994. Now it is the world’s largest online retailer of everything including music, movies, secondhand products, clothing, shoes, toys and even its own ecommerce platform. In a 1997 interview on YouTube, Jeff Bezos, the founder, president and CEO of Amazon, described the company as an online bookseller and supported that core story with proof points about the number of titles it offered, its inventory, its network of book whole seller and its ability to move books from whole seller to customers quickly. Every element of the story involved books.

However, one year later, Amazon began selling music CDs and movie DVDs.

As reported in a New York Times article that year, Bezos said, ”We’re at an inflection point where we are now looking at a broader range of products.

”Our focus has always been to help people find and discover things they want to buy.  We’re not limited to selling our own stuff.”

Bezos changed his story! Instead of books, books, books, the Amazon story became, “help people find and discover things they want to buy.”

Growth Through Acquisition: Disney Buys Pixar

When The Walt Disney Company acquired Pixar in 2007, it seemed to make a lot of sense. Pixar had already created a string of huge hits for Disney including “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles.” Even Bob Iger, Disney’s then CEO and now chairman, realized how important Pixar was to Disney when at the grand opening of Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005, he saw more Pixar characters than classic Disney characters in the event’s main parade.

Nonetheless, they were two very different companies. Pixar pioneered new computer animation that took risks to tell complex stories featuring unconventional characters such as toys, cars and fish. Disney was a mature and conservative studio that relied on classic fairytales.  Disney made many concessions that allowed Pixar to maintain its distinctive culture and brand and preserve the creativity that fueled its success. But, the key to making it work in the consumers’ eyes was the evolution of the Disney brand.  It evolved from a brand that not only created great stories, to a brand that also distributed great stories from a variety of sources.

In The Walt Disney Company press release that announced the acquisition in January 2006, the opening clause of the very first sentence read, “Furthering its strategy of delivering outstanding creative content…”

John Lasseter, who later became the head of both Disney and Pixar Studios but has since left the company, described the acquisition in these terms: “For 20 years we have created our films in the manner inspired by Walt Disney and the great Disney animators – great stories and characters in an environment made richer by technical advances. It is exciting to continue in this tradition with Disney, the studio that started it all.”

They successfully married the magic of the past with the art and technology of the future and changed their combined stories to communicate it in a way that resonated not only with board members and shareholders, but with the consumer, too.

Adapt Your Story for Each Audience:  New 2021 Ford Bronco

The most successful companies adapt their brand story to resonate according to the various uses and needs their audiences have. The brand remains the same, but the communicator reframes what is most important for specific audience segments with stories and messaging targeted to them.

For example, the buyer of the newly reintroduced 2021 Ford Bronco may be quite different than that of the Ford Fusion, yet they are both Ford vehicles. As such, Ford adapts its brand promise, “Go Further” accordingly.

The Bronco, an off-road capable SUV designed to compete with the Jeep Wrangler, is described by Ford in its press release and on its website as “built wild” with thrilling 4×4 capability and ready for fun. The emphasis is on adventure, durability and customization.  Ford is appealing to adventurous individuals looking for a vehicle that enables outdoor thrills but also reflects their individual personality no matter where they drive.

In contrast, Ford describes the Fusion as America’s family sedan. The attributes Ford highlights are the broad appeal of its modern styling as well as the comfort of its luxurious design and the convenience and economy of its hybrid technology. Ford is appealing to an older demographic than that of the Bronco.  They are targeting parents who are looking less for adventure and more for comfortable and efficient predictability in their commute.

Both are Ford products that share some brand attributes that allow the buyer to “go further” in fulfilling their transportation goals. But, no matter how successful “go further” is at a global brand level, it is simply too broad on its own to properly position products that have distinct audiences. If Ford did not adapt its brand language for each product, prospective buyers might form inaccurate perceptions about the attributes and qualities of Ford’s various vehicles.  Buyers looking for an authentically rugged vehicle might overlook the Bronco unaware of its more than 60-year legacy. Other buyers looking for a stylishly smart and economical sedan might pass the Fusion by in favor of the product of a more articulate competitor.  

Think about your own brand as it experiences situations similar to the examples I just shared, and then ask yourself these questions as you update your messaging:

–Have I strategically considered my audiences and their needs? Have I adapted and extended my brand language to help those audiences understand how my products and services can meet their needs?

–Have my spokespeople been properly prepared to utilize the updated language and messaging?

–How many of my customers and prospects are being lured away by other brands willing to invest the time in speaking the language the target audience understands best?

–How much better would consumers understand my brand and value proposition if I invested time in updating my brand messaging? How much more effective would my brand’s sales efforts be?  

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