A Bold New Model for Launching Brands in a Market that Demands Speed and Certainty

Allen Adamson, Co-founder & Managing Partner, Metaforce

Talk about old school. Today’s traditional, linear model of building brands is actually a manifestation of the manufacturing assembly line used to build Ford’s Model T. One department at a time working a piece of the production, handing off to the next department, and then the next. In the case of brand building, it’s a process overseen and commented on by not one, but two hierarchical bodies – client and agency. Whether all the pieces come together cohesively and in alignment with the envisioned brand idea – in time and on budget – is the hoped-for outcome, but not necessarily the certain outcome.

View this model of brand-building against the current marketplace dynamics and it’s apparent how unrealistic it is. Given the accelerating pace of change in everything from technology to world events to consumer behavior, together with the forces of transparency, this conveyor-belt approach to brand-building is neither efficient enough nor effective enough to bode success. As ingrained as this process has become, is it possible to launch a brand with speed and a degree of certainty that it will catch on in such a fast-moving and mercurial environment? Yes, if you take a page out of something new-school; the prototype playbook.

All Together Now

Used, most notably, by innovative technology firms, prototyping helps minimize the gap between strategy and execution when time and competitive advantage is critical. In terms of launching a new brand, this “all together now approach” means crafting the brand idea and developing ways it can be experienced in the marketplace simultaneously. In other words, focus on the story you’d like to tell and the best way to tell it as a cross-functional team in an open forum. With teams working together from the start, you can determine the points of touch that communicate the brand idea with maximum impact and prove that it is different in a way people care about (the absolute litmus test for successful brands).

Building and testing the brand experience via prototyping is not a formulaic process. Instead, it encourages the team to identify the optimal way to leverage the brand idea. It could be anything from a breakthrough package design, an event, a new retail approach, genius bar, pop-up store, or a social media initiative. The operative word here is “breakthrough.” Is the brand idea, itself, breakthrough, and is the activation of the idea breakthrough enough to get people talking about it. To be breakthrough means to be compelling and memorable. The downside of the traditional linear process is that there is an inherent disconnect between the strategy and the execution. Everyone comes at the problem from their own perspective. It’s like the axiom ‘If all you’ve got is a hammer, the problem is always a nail.’ No one can see the whole thing and how it should hang together.

How to Tell Your Story

Working concurrently on the story and its telling allows the teams to evaluate the idea and think about the relevance and potential for success of the branding within the context of the entire user experience. Assessing an idea while looking at how it could manifest itself in market enables those involved, client-side and agency-side, to better determine where and how to invest time and money. As for the details, here’s how it works:

  • Make sure your proposed brand story is clear, sharply focused and, above all, relevantly different.
  • Start every project with an “all together now” session by getting representatives from all project teams together, from research to strategy to manufacturing to sales to marketing, and so on.
  • Develop two or three alternative ways to frame the story to determine which one will offer a greater and more effective variety of consumer brand experiences.
  • Brainstorm specific brand experiences that would help bring the brand story to life across multiple points of touch, be it logo and store design, customer service, online applications, events, advertising, and so forth. Determine which experiences are most representative of the brand promise and personality you want to convey - which feel most authentic and believable. Also critical, determine which experiences are actionable in the established time frame.
  • In addition to the obvious touch points, look for experiences that haven’t been tried before – truly breakthrough ideas.
  • Finally, assign team members the responsibility of creating tangible prototypes of individual brand experiences, be they logos or package design, store design, YouTube videos, customer service scripts, even reservation desk scenarios. While not every brand is a touchable or concrete product, the general notion still holds true: Create the most effective proxy brand experiences and determine which best represent what your brand stands for.

Why is the prototype process better than the traditional linear process?

  • Decisions can be made faster when people have something to react to, something that crystalizes an idea and brings it to life. Words are a mile wide and an inch deep. Show or illustrate what you’re talking about and you’ll get a much more constructive response.
  • Once you crystalize an idea and show how it will manifest itself in market, you’ll know what needs correcting and why, saving both time and money. Simply put, prototyping allows you to cut to the chase. When everyone is looking at a tangible representation, there is less chance for misinterpretation of intentions.
  • A prototype helps people understand the business implications of an initiative more clearly, and the investments required in personnel, infrastructure and financing. By more fully understanding the implications, business decisions will be easier to make and be supported by a broader base of participants. Also, there will be less surprise when something hits the market.

Consumers don’t experience the marketplace in a linear fashion, nor the brands with which they interact. More like a pinball machine, they ping from one experience to the next on their terms and in their own time. It is not a linear interaction. There’s media fragmentation and rampant experiential fragmentation. You have to consider all the implications of your brand building as quickly and assuredly as possible. Bottom line: Whatever you’ve got to offer had better be good right out of the gate. With a prototyping approach versus the old school linear approach, you’re more likely to meet the critical challenges of speed, certainty and consistency.

Allen Adamson is co-founder and managing partner of Metaforce, a hybrid marketing services firm, and the author of “BrandSimple,” “BrandDigital,” “The Edge: 50 Tips from Brands That Lead” and “Shift Ahead.”