Is the quest to be on-brand making you irrelevant? / by Rachel Ford

Sophisticated. Aspirational. Luxury

Most marketing execs can rattle off a list of precise adjectives when asked to define their brand. These descriptors drive the activities and ideas that are "on-brand," but the quest to adhere to them could be limiting, or worse- making the brand irrelevant.

The problem with sticking to a set of specific guidelines is that labels are limiting to today's consumer. The climate is changing, and so should the elements that make up your brand story.

Here's how you can adapt, capture market-share, and stay relevant:

1) Be fluid. The millennial consumer is a multi-hyphenate; they aren't just defined by one thing, there's a bunch of slashes after their name. Sticking to one idea seems too stuffy; limiting. He doesn't want to be seen as a finance guy; he's also a creative. She doesn't want to wear head-to-toe Chanel tweed; she wants the vintage Chanel bag slung over a t-shirt, jeans, and the most coveted kicks. There has to be a curve ball thrown in the mix that makes the composite unique. To today's consumer, aspirational means, "I'm not following; I'm defining;" show them that your brand can be a part of their story.

2) Allow for the unexpected. It's the studs on the designer shoe. It's the spray paint logo on the luxury handbag. It's the rubber watch band on the hi-tech timepiece. Sending a mixed message is what takes brands from ordinary and expected to extraordinary and unpredictable- which is what the consumer they're trying to attract aspires to be. Free your brand from its precious confines and set the existing perceptions on fire.

3) Shake up the status quo. When you throw a curve-ball at your brand story, you're not diluting; you're creating buzz. The one piece of the puzzle that seems off-brand is what will be remembered. We were once working with an established liquor client who wanted to throw an event for a group of bartenders at a cocktail festival. While we encouraged them to think outside of their box and add an element of edginess to their otherwise buttoned-up aesthetic, this client was adamant that a civilized cocktail hour would be the most "on-brand." They moved forward with the cocktail hour, while unbeknownst to them, their top competitor hired a 90s rap legend to perform an invite-only bartender party. While both brands had a similar brand story, target consumer group and heritage, one won over the intended target by dishing out the unexpected. When done correctly, the unexpected element will not create a new culture around the brand (said competition did not suddenly pigeonhole themselves into the hip-hop market), but will help you evolve and stay relevant.