Change for the sake of change undermines brand growth

by Nigel Hollis | January 29, 2020

I always used to say that the people that created a great TV ad got fed up with seeing it long before its intended audience did. After all marketers and agency team see the content on a regular basis, normal people do not. But, on reflection, this problem applies all aspects of marketing activity. Maybe all marketers should remember the adage, ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’.

I have been traveling around Europe in the last couple of weeks sharing the latest incarnation of Mastering Momentum. The reaction seems to have been very positive, but recently someone commented that while I was talking about the need for clarity, consistency and coherence, most companies feel they need to keep changing things in order to be successful. The commentator did not doubt the need for consistency in order to create a strong, motivating impression of the brand among people not yet ready to buy, but they questioned whether any company actually stuck to anything for more than a few months.

I suspect this thought might have been triggered by my use of the Tropicana case study where a packaging change not only produced an outcry from regular buyers it had a disastrous effect on sales. So far from bowing to public demand as the article suggests, PepsiCo was protecting its profits in the face of a drastic loss of sales following the introduction of the new package. Did the package need to be updated? Yes, but it should have been evolved so that regular buyers could still recognise it, not changed so dramatically that they could not easily find a brand they were predisposed to buy.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that as a new brand manager ‘updating’ the brand logo or package is often quickest to make your mark. But when visual identity is so important to triggering brand predisposition, too big a change can have negative consequences. I believe the biggest problem with the Tropicana package change was that it disrupted people’s instinctive and habitual behaviour, forcing them to think about their choice for the first time in years.

Even with the advent of smart speakers and voice marketing, most people shopping in-store or online rely on visual cues in order to recognise a brand. Maybe it is the package, which when seen in-store unlocks the instinctive anticipation that this is the right brand to choose. Maybe it is just the name seen in search results, which attracts our attention. And while I would argue that we should think beyond just the sense of sight to build brands, there is no doubt that the vast majority of brand interaction – from display ads to apps, from TV ads to event marketing – requires a strong visual identity to be effective. It is the one thing that can be relied on to ensure mental connectivity across touch points, so change it at your peril. Far better to ensure that your brand’s identity is featured consistently and obviously across everything you do.

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However, consistency applies to everything a brand does. If you have identified something that distinguishes a brand from its competition and has the potential to be meaningful to a wider audience then you have to make it salient to a wider audience, most of who will not buy for weeks, months or years later. Marketers have to not only establish what the brand looks like they have to link that identity to a positive, motivating impression that will be memorable enough to last through time. And that requires not only establishing relevance and engagement, it requires repetition to create a strong memory structure. It is a process that takes time and changing things for the sake of changing simply disrupts memory formation and undermines the future power of a brand.

To my mind all the evidence suggests that normal people – the ones that buy products and services but think and care little about them – take a long time to build up a coherent picture of a brand. Bad news for brands that want a dramatic shift in sales immediately but good news for those willing to take the time and build strong associations because they will be rewarded by stronger, more resilient long-term sales growth. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.

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