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Is your brand heading for a crash landing?

The importance of maintaining a 360° view of your brand

In a world full of complexity and constant change, most of us naturally crave a little simplicity. The notion of being able to boil a brand’s performance down to one or two (or even three) simple metrics can sound, understandably, quite appealing. But does this pursuit of simplicity leave us less able to anticipate future challenges or exploit key opportunities, and ultimately put the future success of our brand at risk?

Simple is good

Simplicity works for brands. Many of the most successful brands make life simple; they cut through the complexity of life to give consumers what they want, easily, simply, quickly. Think Uber, Amazon, First Direct, AirBnB, CostCo, Ikea, KFC, Levi’s… the list goes on.

“Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple.” Richard Branson

Delivering brand success is more complex

As simple as brands may be through the eyes of consumers, the world in which brands operate is much more complex.

There are multiple factors that can influence the performance of your brand; some within your control and some completely outside your control. Having an idea that meets a real need is one thing. Getting it on people’s radar, making it easy for them to find, delivering the brand experience well and creating a stronger emotional connection with the brand brings a whole range of additional challenges.

In such a complex world there are genuine risks in oversimplifying the understanding we have about the brands we manage. Being aware of the complexity that exists, and measuring it, makes it easier to get to grips with the reality so we can make appropriate decisions.

As Alan Perlis (the first recipient of the Turing Award) once put it:

“Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.”

Getting it wrong can be terminal

History is littered with examples of once strong and successful brands that have lost their way or even completely failed, often when others in their sector have prospered. Think Borders, Polaroid, Blockbuster, Benetton, Toys R Us or BHS just for starters.

What did they do wrong? Whilst the circumstances are unique to every brand, they share a common failure to recognise the gravity of their situation and adapt to change whilst there was still time to respond either by innovating, re-positioning, diversifying or adopting some other strategy to protect their brand’s future.

Less is not necessarily more

There is a temptation to distil the essence of brand performance down to as few measures as possible, or even a single ‘overall score’, in a bid to ‘remove complexity’. It’s certainly easier to measure, report and digest results. Yet the more we zoom in on a small number of key measures, the more we narrow our perspective of the multitude of factors that could shape the future of our brand. The more we lose a nuanced understanding of our brand and its competitive arena. The more we increase the chances of creating a ’blindspot’ that causes us to overlook a critical threat, or even an opportunity.

A useful analogy is that of an airline pilot. In their cockpit they have an extensive instrument panel constantly updating their situation with data across a vast array of metrics. Would we be happy to board a plane if we knew that the pilot could only see the air speed, altitude and heading? What about all the other flight, engine and navigation data that will ensure that the pilot can reach the destination safely and land the plane in one piece, whilst also avoiding hazards such as other aircraft or that unexpected electrical storm?

Keeping your brand on a safe course

The same principle applies when managing your brand. The better informed you are, the more likely you are to keep your brand on a successful trajectory. But just like an airline pilot, it can be counter-productive to be swamped by too much data. We don’t want to end up overwhelmed into indecision.

Using a comprehensive framework of measures that covers the range of factors most likely to determine brand success or failure is a helpful way to achieve this. Not only does it ensure we avoid any obvious blind spots, but it encourages a disciplined and rounded approach to understanding all key aspects of the brand and how they interact to drive brand performance. Conversely, it avoids an unhealthy obsession with single arbitrary metrics that can create a culture of complacency by obscuring important issues from view.

The bottom line

A big part of managing brands successfully is minimising the risks involved, but also grasping opportunities when they arise. The graveyard of brands is full of formerly successful businesses that failed to respond effectively on either front. Even if the essence of your brand is simple, the business of managing brands is complex, with your brand’s future at the mercy of multiple factors. Identifying the most important success factors and ensuring you measure them adequately is therefore a vital step for long-term brand success. Boiling it down to a single measure is neat and tidy, but unlikely to help you make well informed decisions.

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Is your brand heading for a crash landing?