We live in uniquely uncertain times for brands. According to brand strategist Rod Parkes, in a discussion on The Evolving Meaning of Brands, “The meaning of a brand literally depends on how you look at it.” He cites a number of brands as examples, including Google. He says,

“Internet users see Google as a search engine company, but from a business perspective it is at heart an advertising company… So the meaning of the Google brand differs depending on whether you are a search engine user or a potential advertiser.”

The point is, the consumer defines the brand. This means brand strategy must account for constantly altering perspectives—a high level of uncertainty.

In military strategy, if you are unsure of the terrain ahead, then mobility is your key strategy. In volatile market conditions, branding is no different. Agility and responsiveness, adaptability and rapid reactivity are essential traits for market survival. Consequently, the brand strategy process must become faster, less linear, more flexible, and more collaborative.

  1. 1+1>2 = Working in Parallel

All parts of the brand strategy process should proceed in parallel rather than in series; this delivers results greater than the sum of their parts

Agile thinking rejects the overly linear step-by-step framework in favour of combining tasks or performing them in parallel whenever possible to accelerate the branding process. Ideas can come from anywhere.

Whereas traditional brand strategies will say that the process starts with research which informs the strategy which in turn informs creative development, agile thinking turns this on its head and says that any part can inform any other part.

A great visual can inspire the brand strategy. An idea in the brand strategy can lead to a breakthrough in the research. Working in parallel is a core tenet that underlies all of the other keys below.

  1. Multidisciplinary Collaboration

The client and brand consultancy become one integrated team

Typically, a branding team will consist of the marketing team on the client’s side, with limited input from the CEO, and 3-4 brand consultants from the agency. The team presents strategies that need to be approved rank by rank within the company.

The essence of the agile branding approach is forming one team with all the decision-makers present—the agency and client work closely together. Instead of each task being a time-consuming separate link in a long chain of command and approval, a cross-disciplinary team works together to bring the brand to life in real time, cutting months off the process.

  1. Overlapping Thinking and Action

Involve design as early as possible to ensure the message is transported to every cell of the brand

A key aspect of agile strategy development is combining thinking (analysis and strategy) and action (creative design and prototyping) into a single process—this ensures every great idea is actionable from the outset.

When strategists and designers work together to evolve a result jointly, the process is not only faster, but frequently yields unexpected insights. In many organisations this may mean having the product developer, web developers, branding team and marketing team all working together.

  1. Rapid Prototyping

Creating better results though an iterative process

This is an agile process of creating and releasing beta versions of the brand strategy. It starts by building several branding models and positioning directions and assessing the feasibility and implications of each in real time.

This means that each time the team meets, it’s for a prototyping workshop. Select team members based on their ability to collaborate and push ideas across the finish line. Egos, and anyone sitting on the sidelines disparaging others’ ideas, need to be removed from the team as early in the process as possible. Continually improve with each meeting and turn the process into common company practice.

  1. Designing your Brand as an Experience

People remember experiences better than brands

Every point of contact your customers have with your brand is an experience—an opportunity to inspire and delight. Specifically design touchpoints as an engaging experience that reflects your brand’s personality and message. Outline every touchpoint in the rapid prototyping process, and run every idea through the filter of each touchpoint in real time.

  1. Separating Principles from Features

Keep your focus on the high level principles of the brand, and the tactical details will fall easily into place

Today’s brands must be flexible—evolving to meet rapidly changing consumer needs—but this doesn’t mean a brand is infinitely malleable, or it would lose all meaning. Identify and preserve the core principle of the brand—the unalterable brand promise that the customer can rely on over time—while leaving all other facets in constant evolution.

7. Finding your Unique Buying Tribe

Customers like to buy – not to be sold

Customers want to be better humans and follow higher-order wishes and values. They seek satisfaction through and while purchasing. They create unique buying tribes to combine and pursue their wishes—creating new dynamics. For example, social listening and similar online analytics allow you a fast track to find out who your specific customer groups are.

Brands reflect personalities, and consumers tend to like brands that they see as an extension of their own personality. The task for brands becomes less one of defining the brand than of identifying the customer group that identifies with the brand and letting them define it—managing the brand to meet their needs and aspirations.

In this scenario, those who share the same personality traits are potential recruits to the tribe. This enables lifestyle brands to sell on the basis of their unique personality rather than having to compete on the traditional and overcrowded battlefield of heritage and high-quality craftsmanship.

  1. Monitoring in Real Time and Recalibrating

Harness social listening, and doubleclick and other analytics

Most new brands conduct extensive consumer research before launch, but don’t assume those findings will remain valid forever. Three months is the data half-life for many industries.

Data mining and other analytical tools can keep your knowledge of your consumers up to date, facilitating rapid response when their needs and wishes change. This means any agile strategy team needs to be tech-savvy and on top of analytics on a daily basis—using it as a primary navigation tool for beta version development.

  1. Internal Alignment

An inspired workforce = greater profits

Ensure that the agile strategy development is transported to every cell of your organisation. Organisations that have engaged staff well versed in the new brand strategy grow profits much faster and outperform competitors. This means keeping the whole company in the progress loop and training staff at every brand strategy release.

  1. Mobile First

Design for people on the go with a message that is granular

Today’s markets consist of people on the go. In many countries, especially emerging markets, mobile devices have overtaken desktop computers as the dominant channel for Internet access. Ensure that your brand message can reach potential audiences across multiple communication devices with a granular message.