The importance of building a bridge brand.

So here’s the scenario.

You’ve created a product you believe in, and built a company around it. You’ve gone to the (considerable) trouble of wrapping all that in a beautiful brand – website, logo, advertising, even cute little things you give out at trade shows.

Sure, the brand reflects your vision. You’re no dummy, though. While you were developing it, you consulted with people you trusted, incorporated their suggestions, and didn’t stop tweaking until they lit up like kids at Christmas.

You launched. And sales are tepid.

A year or two pass. Sales improve, but modestly. Gnawing questions start to wake you at 4am.

As you question your product’s viability, you commit to doing a renewed dive into what your potential customers are looking for. Instead of asking people you trust, though, or doing focus groups, you use a tool that ranks search results around your offering.

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What happens when your brand isn’t what people are looking for?

What you discover makes you pale and a bit woozy. All the language you’d been using to pitch your offering? Pretty much nobody is typing those terms into Google. The vocab you love isn’t the vocab they love.

Still, you’re in no mood to argue. Instead, you tweak your website, incorporating some of the terminology people are using. And yes, almost immediately you start to see a response. It feels like you put a different lure on the line, and the fish are nibbling.

Now comes the hard part.

Tweaking website language is easy. The hard part is incorporating those neverending tweaks  into your offline brand.  After all, you’ve honed your pitch and speech. Created ads to run for the next six months. Given the office a fresh coat of paint so it looks like your logo.

Do you just dump it all, and chase the new direction?

No. You build a bridge brand.

How to build a bridge brand

The first thing you need to know is that this is an evolution, not a revolution. So there’s no need to panic.

Start by stepping back to get perspective on what you stand for, vs what your target audience seems to be looking for. The search tool I used really helped on this front. So did going through it all with an outsider I trusted. Actually sketching out the ‘what I stand for’ vs ‘What people want’ on a piece of paper helps a great deal.

I can virtually guarantee some points will align, and some won’t. The points of alignment are the foundation of your brand.  That’s what stays consistent across all your messaging.

This is an evolution, not a revolution. Relax.

Now that you’ve done an inventory on your brand language, do an inventory of all the elements of your brand. Website, blog, adwords campaign, stationery, sales brochures and packaging, posters, trade show booths, you name it. Pick a few pieces you can easily tweak as ‘prototypes’.  In my case, it was the focus of my blog. Blogs are great starting points, because they generally reflect the ‘expert’ content you push into the world. If you can get your blogs incorporating both your foundational consistencies, and the tweaks you’ve added to update your brand – and you can get it to all make sense – you’re on the right track.

Once you feel comfortable with the way you’re expressing yourself in blogs, you can move to other ‘long content’ elements of your brand. Brochures, for example. Again, you might find the actual changes that need to be made are minimal. I’d venture to guess the changes will focus on and tone, inflection and emphasis more, and actual points of argument less.

Repeat this exercise across all your brand media. And accept the fact this ‘test and tweak’ process is your new reality (it’s actually an old reality in the tech world, but that’s another story). Once you get your head around the fact, you might actually start to enjoy the journey. Especially if the ongoing tweaks come with an ongoing rise in the sales curve.

This ‘test and tweak’ process is your new reality.

This process might also get you to reevaluate some of your more staid ‘offline’ media. If you’ve generally front-end loaded your print ads for a year, consider doing a fresh batch quarterly. If your instore signage can only be tweaked yearly, consider making it more generic and anchored on brand elements that are absolutely foundational.

I can’t overemphasize that you need to get the brand foundation ironed out at the beginning, so you don’t end up ‘tweaking’ out the vision of your brand. Sure, once you have the foundation, there’s no problem dressing it in new ways and giving it new ways to express itself. But if you end up going back to a clean slate, you’re in danger of wiping out the parts of your brand that got you fired up when you first launched it. You don’t want to be tweaking the passion right out of your brand.

Good news is, you don’t have to.

This story first appeared in Medium March 9th, 2015.

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