In the world of brand strategy you will often hear people use phrases that personify a brand. We will suggest that brands have personalities, characters and motivations. Because of this, we look at brands as living systems. And, if a brand is a living thing, it must follow a lifecycle — it must be born and it must eventually sadly die. We wanted to explore and share this idea with you.
Any living system (be it an ecosystem, living creature or society) will go through a similar lifecycle — Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Decline and Death. Throughout this cycle these living things will learn and evolve as they go. And, importantly, they will change the way they act and express themselves, to reflect the place they are at in the life cycle. A brand is no different.
So, if a brand is personified to be just like a person, what does the life cycle look like? As the brand evolves it will follow a 6-stage life cycle, which we have also personified — Birth, Child, Teenager, Adult, Elderly and Death. When we refer to these life stages, we’re not viewing them as how old your brand is, but how it evolves through a series of different forms.
Birth – Launch stage
Loud and attention grabbing.
At this stage in a brands life, it is totally unknown to its audience. It has just been born, and just like a baby, the brand needs to do everything in its power to grab attention of those around it and start building relationships with them.
Simple and effective communication is the key here. Use distinctive, emotive based tactics to communicate your values and call-to-actions. Just like a baby crying, you need to convince your audience that it will benefit them to interact with your brand.
Child – Growth stage
The brand is known now. It has spent time forming a relationship with early adopters, the people who believe in the values and offerings. But just like a child, this stage is where the brand starts to communicate with an audience beyond its close family.
The growth stage is where any ideas can start to flourish, it’s where the brand introduces new methods of communication to help build a picture of the brand in the minds of a wide audience.
Teenager – Experimental stage
Willing to try anything, but without consistency.
As the growth stage starts to come to a head, the brand has changed a lot! It’s building lots of new relationships and trying out different ways to express what it stands for. Just like a teenager, you are experimenting with styles.
Trying to find ways to make sense of a brand purpose (that was set at its birth) and how it relates to a business that has grown to maturity. The key here is to aid the transition into maturity by defining a strategy that makes sense.
Adult – Maturity stage
Defined, but needs effort to stay relevant.
In maturity, the brand has developed a defined view of themselves, which should be clear to see by the audience also. The brand proposition has grown up and presents the brand, that has been with its early adopters from its birth, in the light of a successful mature business.
But, just like any adult, it is a constant effort to stay relevant. This effort has become greater and greater over time as the business grows and more structure is put in place, making pivoting the brand offering more difficult. A brand should be constantly reassessing its brand proposition, and how it sits with a shifting culture.
Elderly – Decline stage
No longer relevant.
When a brand reaches the maturity stage, it will find that growth and success has made it quite difficult to adapt and pivot its brand positioning. If the brand finds that it is now lacking relevance and importance to its audience, it will slip into this decline stage.
The difficulty of change for a mature brand, can make it quite easy for the brand to show signs of low competitiveness. This is a slippery slope and you will see the brand dropping prices and the market becoming saturated with new challenger competition.
But with swift and effective actions a brand can lift itself from this stage, back into maturity. Potentially embracing new markets or repositioning the brand in a way that is more relevant.
Death – Rebirth stage
The space for new ideas to start.
A brand could live for ever. But, if it doesn’t evolve it could ultimately die. That’s a natural thing — in nature something will die to make way for something new, or something better. From the ashes of one brand can come another.
It’s important to re-evaluate where a brand is at, to make informed decisions about its future.
At each of these stages it is essential that your brand expressions can keep up with your brand proposition.
But to continue our analogy if your brand is a person, what is your brand expression? The brand expression is the clothes it wears, the friendly warm greetings or even the perfume. It’s the tangible things you notice everyday about a brand that sums them up. So this could be the brand’s logo or colour palette, the header text on their website or the photography on Instagram. Any of these things are the ways that the brand expresses itself.
But what happens if your brand grows up, but it doesn’t express itself in a way that shows it acting its age? For example your brand may now be a mature adult, but still be wearing the clothes of a teenager or even a child.
A great example of this was when Brewdog rebranded in early 2020. Brewdog had grown massively since they started out as small craft brewery in Scotland, 13 years prior, into an international brand that had 4 breweries and 100 bars. Brewdog had outgrown their punk teenager expressions. No more pretending to be a small craft brewery sticking it to the system, Brewdog were being honest now. They are now a major player and needed to reflected the mature brand they had become.
But 2 years have moved on and the clothes are now starting to become misaligned with the brand. Over this time issues with Brewdog’s brand have come out in the public. Which means they probably need to fundamentally take a look at what they say their brand stands for, instead of focussing on the clothes it’s wearing.
A similar example to this is FIFA. FIFA are a mature adult wearing a designer suit. But over time FIFA has become less connected to today’s international culture. Should their clothes be more relevant to what fans want? We’ve all seen the Qatar world cup controversy over the stance taken on environmental issues, human rights and equality. We think there is actually a misalign between what FIFA’s brand stands for and today’s society.
So perhaps now is the time for FIFA and Brewdog to do a bit of soul searching to establish how they communicate on an international stage, making their brands stronger and realigning their expression.
Obviously not all businesses work on an international stage, but these problems are seen at all levels. And, importantly, can always be figured out. This is what Ghost pride ourself in. With any new client we want to go in deep, understand their brand and work out what the best clothing is for them to express themselves and grow as a business. In other words, if your brand is a person, we help them to act their age.