At Cannes Lions, BBH founder Sir John Hegarty noted that the festival had lost its creative North Star. “I keep hearing conversations about platforms—I don’t need to catch a train. Can we talk about an idea?” He added, “Cannes is constantly changing, constantly evolving, constantly responding to the industry. Sometimes it gets it right, sometimes wrong.”
The same can be said about platforms. Companies are increasingly turning to the creative use of brands to drive growth, particularly in the adaptation of a brand as a platform to deliver experiences that consumers demand. Although broad global brand platforms may lure marketers with a deceptively simple means for engaging more consumers, the truth is that this approach requires a significant amount of strategy, discipline and management.
At their best, platforms such as Airbnb, Instagram and Amazon have empowered us to cooperate, co-author and co-create, bringing us closer together more efficiently and seamlessly than ever before. And as digital innovation continues to transform products, services and entire industries, these same forces are also transforming the role and meaning of brands.
Brand new world
Today, approaches to brand development often follow the lead of product innovation, focusing on the invention and launch of platforms that are enabled by technology, rather than discrete products or services. As brands pursue growth through scalable go-to-market strategies, a platform perspective has become more prevalent and mission-critical to an increasing number of brands. In turn, brands have co-opted the term “platform” as technology had years before, with many marketers and brand managers shifting their focus toward a larger and longer game offered by platforms.
Leadership brands such as Netflix and Uber rely on flexible and adaptive brand frameworks to keep in step with the demands of innovation. With this approach, products are typically delineated in versions or releases rather than what may appear as separate products or services. Marketers not only need to deliver on the now and near-term success of their brands but also build programs, systems and identities that support and anticipate future iterations in their portfolios. Because of the accelerating speed of innovation and the fact that a platform approach to product development can have the effect of decreased differentiation, brand plays an increasingly important role in educating consumers and inspiring them to engage, upgrade or purchase.
Everything to everyone
Brand platforms can introduce the risk of lessening a brand’s ability or aptitude for delivering on consumers’ requests for greater personalization, authenticity and trust. Although technology enables a range of one-to-one capabilities, marketers must understand how to design consumer programs that truly recognize individual needs. One result is that a single brand platform services the needs of a global audience across a range of segments and product and service categories. As the saying goes: We can do anything, but we can’t do everything. This is good advice for all of us to keep in mind.
Brands are oftentimes becoming synonymous with the product or service platform they represent. The days of the House of Brands seem gone or numbered. When a single brand bears the responsibility of being all things to everyone, the result can be a brand that is difficult to manage, slower to move and less capable of delivering lasting impact. The approach also introduces potential and significant risks that other approaches to branding help to mitigate. If not carefully moderated and monitored, a customer’s trust—and their business—can be put at risk.
Riches in niches
While the wild success of a handful of global technology platforms has shown us what’s possible, we should ask whether a monolithic, branded house approach is right for all brands today. Many healthy and high-growth brands are offering great examples of how to find success through narrowing focus and increasing the personalization of their offerings.
The private, membership-based online community Raya is built upon a deep understanding of who the brand is and who its members are, an approach that seemingly forfeits the appeal of being everything to everyone in favor of delivering on a more specific value proposition for a targeted audience. Alternatively, Moleskine has changed the way that we view the notebook through a marketing approach that leads with personalization. They have effectively recast the notebook as a platform for invention and creativity while adeptly making personalization an important part of the brand experience.
Revolutionize and humanize
Great brands strive to clarify, simplify and then amplify their tangible benefits and intangible rewards, helping bring them to life in the hearts and minds of consumers in meaningful ways. But to do this effectively and sustainably, approaches to brand engagement must be nuanced and made specific to the needs of consumers who expect and demand more and more. Brands must also learn to cast off the vestiges of global technology and big data and learn to speak in a voice that is authentic and resonates with consumers. Go forth and revolutionize—but be sure to keep your wits about you.
Don’t miss Brandweek, coming up September 23–25 in Palm Springs. No panels, no sales pitches—just three days of interactive discussion, problem-solving, entertainment and networking. Learn more here.