Inside Track by Fraser Bradshaw Creating and managing brand value is not for the faint-hearted. While the leisure category has held its course by managing the bottom line, with disciplined cost control and supply-chain management, the real challenge lies in adding to the top line through the creation of new customer value. The past six months have taken us around the world, looking at different client organisations and brands. Without doubt the definition of branding is changing. Leisure brands in most countries are feeling the effects of a transformational shift from branding as a ‘graphic and design’ issue to branding as the way their organisations need to deliver value and redefine their purpose. The question is not whether to change, but how much to change. Not everyone wants transformation, but what we can’t ignore is the dramatic revolution in consumer marketing: in the way that products and services are developed, the pace and rate of change of innovation and the technology and channels employed to build enduring engagement. So while core beliefs and behaviour may remain constant, innovation in products and experiences, together with a far more competitive approach, are required to keep pace with constant new dynamic influences entering the marketplace. It’s no good to rely on the annual ‘sparkle’ to remain competitive. Your history and story are vital, but keeping relevant is more important than clinging to the past. The extent and nature of change still confuses many. People appear tense about the future as they confuse innovation with the newest, latest technology. Innovation remains a combination of having correct goals and fresh thinking about how they will be achieved. This part of the process is still straightforward. At the very least, brands are modernising within existing frameworks that their customers clearly recognise. But we also see businesses redefine their ‘reason for being’ and question everything that they have previously held dear, as they no longer rely only on their basic offerings to define their businesses. This can change the game for everyone – get it right, as some organisations are doing, and new markets literally open up in front of you. If brands can’t engage or disrupt within their category, they need to look for different ways to compete, or change the business model under which they are operating. Most of the time we are asked to look at brands it’s with a view to an evolution. Understandably, it’s far easier than a revolution. But the truth is that even the process of evolution is not a tactic to employ on an annual basis, it should be an on-going commitment – who is responsible on your board for innovation and managing the process of evolution? There’s a notion these days that all roles are defined by four core functions or groups: thinkers, builders, improvers and producers. Those who think, innovate and make things happen remain engaged where there is a business culture of consistent improvement, one of dynamic evolution. But the UK is slow to accept this and over time, the culture of innovation is rarely sustained in business as many have used it simply as a tactic. We find that, as UK companies grow and mature, the bulk of the work tends to be driven at operational level; ‘producers’ take over and implementing change becomes slower. Then the only value comes from knowing the cost of everything and in the management of these costs – for the value creators have already moved on. Thinkers and innovators will always go to where the culture of constant improvement exists; they will hire new ‘producers’ to help bring order and they bring with them new skills and ideas. Those who aren’t continually evolving, learning new skills and developing new processes will be left behind to fend for themselves. Evolution is mostly about pragmatic growth. You add to the knowledge that you have and you do so, systematically. It helps your business to grow, but by how much? Most likely, it will be incremental (but rarely exponential). And that’s fine. But businesses don’t grow on evolution alone. Linear progress might be a temporary comfort blanket, but life is most definitely not linear. Revolutions are different. Firstly, they are seldom linear or systematic. Revolutionary thinking tends to come from group experiences, from new cultures and from thinking broader than your category. Too much revolution would be foolhardy, but taking time out twice a year to flirt with new experiences will give you more fresh thinking and help you refine and set your goals. To help navigate the future here are five basic steps you can take: 1. Get good data if you want to get good context. New demographics, new consumers, new markets and new audiences all come from analysis of data and your relative over/under achievement. Fact. 2. Put the right person in charge. Make sure that who ‘leads the charge’ has the right skill sets to get the best out of the teams involved; don’t let their limitations limit your brand’s potential. 3. Change your notions of ‘value’. Embrace the notion of a branded experience that incorporates product innovation, digital and social innovation, and service innovation. Review how people access the brand and give them a value alternative to get them engaged and provide different ways to acquire what your brand offers. 4. Try walking in your customers’ shoes. Call your store and see what happens. Shop the category, then shop out of the category; see who else is stealing share of wallet. People do what they do, not what they say, so go and see what’s going on. Every contact point with your customers presents an opportunity to define your brand. 5. Ask yourself a question: so what? Are we telling a good enough story? What problems are we trying to solve? Why should anyone care about our brand? Brand building is a total value chain concept that can’t be left to perception alone. Discounting is not the solution; showing people why you are worth it is a far more viable proposition. Adding to the top line will still transfer to the balance sheet. One thing is for sure, you need to get yourself a good roadmap; brands that fail to plan face a difficult path ahead. Fraser Bradshaw is CEO of Saintnicks, a communications agency that creates content, campaigns and communication strategies for clients worldwide