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March 17, 2020 by Eleanor Beale

Uncovering a brand gap: How you can fix the rifts between reality and ambition

If you’re like me, you’re stuck inside, puttering around, eating nothing but rice for the third day in a row. Social distancing is not ideal, but for those of us with the luxury to work from home it can be a welcome change of pace. We’re so used to looking ahead, planning and preparing for the next project or campaign, we sometimes let things fall to the wayside. Remember that internal project you went to a meeting to three months ago? Me neither.

The point is, now, in the midst of a global pandemic, is a good time to take a breather, be introspective, look at the big picture. In this case, the big picture is your brand.

What is a brand gap?

It’s easy to develop a brand and then forget about it, sometimes for years. But without regular check-ins, a gap starts to form. A brand gap occurs when there is a rift between the reality of where your brand is and where you want it to be. They can affect brands of any age, scale, or vertical.

Gaps are no good for a lot of reasons. They can decrease revenue, audience loyalty, member attrition and customer churn. So, we’re going to get the bottom of what creates these schisms, because recognizing the signs of a brand gap is the first step in protecting against them. If any of the following scenarios seem familiar, then there’s probably some brand work in your future.

The offer has changed

Maybe your brand no longer offers the same programs and services, its mission or mandate has changed, or it has shifted its focus in a significant way. Either way, the offer has changed, but your brand hasn’t. That’s a textbook gap.

One brand that experienced this kind of gap was Dropbox. After years as a successful tech start-up, Dropbox didn’t want to be seen as just a file storing platform for businesses and business professionals. Instead, they wanted customers to see them as a “living workspace where people and ideas come together”. After identifying this brand gap, Dropbox launched several new products that targeted creatives and individuals. To signal this shift in their business, they redeveloped their branding efforts to become more vibrant, creative and memorable — all things you wouldn’t associate with something as mundane as file storage.

The brand is outdated

This happens when the brand falls out of date, and not in keeping with the demands and desire/behaviours and belief of the target audiences, changes in technology, political context, etc. Now, instead of signaling to audiences that you’re heading into the future, you’re slipping into the past. A timeless brand doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean you have to race to keep up with trends, rebranding every time Pantone releases their colour-of-the-year.

Airbnb is a good example of a brand that responded to changes, both internally and externally, in order to stay relevant. Like Dropbox, Airbnb had grown beyond its small start-up roots. Even though the offer hadn’t really changed, its business had grown exponentially. It had become a global brand overnight, but its old logo was more “cutesy/mom’s basement” and less “international tech giant”. The initial design, with thick bubbled letters that looked like they were plucked right out the Myspace era, didn’t reflect its innovative and modern business. Its new logo represents all the things it is without losing the sense of warmth and belonging that the brand messaging works hard to capture.

The market has evolved

As savvy marketers amidst the technological boom, we have a strong understanding of all the ways the market can change – sometimes overnight. Whether a new competitor has emerged onto the scene, or is just taking up a bigger part of it, it’s important that your brand evolves to keep its footing in the space.

In 2016, The Huffington Post did just that. With the proliferation of “fake news” and a new republican government looming, the truth was in high demand (but, unfortunately, in low supply). According to CEO Jared Grusd and editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen, the updated brand, HuffPost, “reflects our bold promise to help readers know what’s real and what really matters”. The agency behind the redesign, Work-Order, says that HuffPost’s “new logo puts the focus on the space in between and extending its reach further out into the margins” thus reflecting the publication’s renewed editorial positioning in Trump’s America.

The brand has become more complex, and now we’re confused

If your brand tells audiences one thing and your marketing says another, there’s going to be an unignorable disconnect, and your audiences will be the first to point it out. Maybe the brand messaging is no longer consistent with the original strategy. Or maybe new sub-brands have cropped up and there are no guiding principles to shape them. No matter how murky things get, a well-defined brand is the best way for an organization to clarify its purpose and unique value.

Clarity and consistency were certainly top of the rebranding wish list for Mastercard when they engaged top branding agency, Pentagram, to help them. Their existing brand was no longer able to express everything that the global brand sought to be. Pentagram partner Michael Beirut explains: “We took their DNA and went through this process of distillation. With each wave of simplification, it felt sharper, cleaner and more flexible.” Stripping the brand down to its essence and keeping it simple meant Mastercard could keep living up to its credible reputation.

The brand is brand new

Emerging into the market as a new brand comes with a plethora of challenges. One of the primary difficulties as a new brand is to disrupt a well-established market ecosystem with loyal customers and conventions. Upsetting the status quo is never going to be easy, but a strong and compelling brand will not only tell your story, it’ll make it a bestseller.

When building your brand identity, you may find yourself wanting to try on various personas. This is a trap that new brands often fall into, but you can avoid it. A strong brand can help clarify this identity crisis so that it doesn’t have to happen in the public eye. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take some rigorous self-discovery to identify who you are, what you want to represent, and how you want your audiences to perceive you. After that you’ll have a better understanding of where your brand fits in the market.

Bunz started as a private Facebook group in Toronto. Its goal is simple: cultivate a trading economy within communities in order to reduce waste and consumerism. What initially began as a small group quickly grew until it became clear that they needed to identify their brand as a means to establish themselves.

“We kind of wanted to put a lasso around all of the groups they’ve created,” founder Emily Bitze says. But the brand was more than that. It had to tell the story of Bunz and all the communities it’s tied to. Since its humble beginnings, Bunz now has an app and can be found across the country, largely because of its clever and timely branding.

Wrap up

As marketers, brand management is one of the most challenging parts of our job, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each brand project requires time — time to develop a nuanced understand of the market and craft a personalized approach to ensure gaps don’t get the better of us. Luckily, we love a challenge. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at info@banfield.agency if you think there’s a gap we can fill.

Eleanor Beale is a strategist at Banfield Agency.

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