Tweaks To Long-Established Practices Can Go A Long Way

It is no surprise: Google, Amazon, Apple and Netflix are among the most relevant brands today. They have achieved this by being customer obsessed, guiding their actions through purpose and continuously innovating.

It sounds straightforward, but remaining relevant is a real challenge. Established CPG brands are losing relevance according to Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index™. While they excel at providing trusted, quality products, they lag on most other measures of relevance.

Today’s consumers are shifting their spend from static brands to living brands that integrate seamlessly into their lives. Living brands create a new level of engagement through a combination of selection, speed and convenience.

Living brands approach innovation differently, especially relative to static brands.

5 Mandates For Brands To Become Relevant With Consumers

1. (Truly) solve for the customer

Static brands spend large amounts of time and resources gathering Voice Of the Customer and translating learnings into products. A common lens is looking at category growth to understand where consumers spent their money to then inform future innovation activity and investments. This process can take months. By the time a product is ready, there is so much time and money invested, it must be sold, resulting in brands forcing products on consumers.

Living brands continuously analyze consumer inputs, such as eyeballs, traffic and actions taken to proactively develop and test products, services and experiences. The process is evergreen and results in a continuous stream of innovations that respond to current consumer needs and/or pain points in real time.

2. Celebrate speed over perfection

Static brands are often focused on making a big splash with every launch. They spend big on media, activation and promotion and then often starve these products after launch. Large production runs are required, with big volumes of new product in inventory that must be sold.

Living brands shy away from big splashes and embrace ongoing micro-launches. They place small bets on inventory giving customers visibility to the new and different and then rapidly take the signals customers send to change, alter or kill offerings. With micro-launches, living brands place less emphasis on profitability and more on relevance.

3. Make learning central to the culture

Static brands are designed for success. Homeruns are preferred over singles. Employees align themselves with the biggest, most funded, highest visibility initiatives to boost their careers. But, in reality, homeruns are rare. Funding is often cut short as a result of quarterly earnings or time to market.

Living brands are wired different. They see “failure” as learning, and learning equals success. Teams thrive on initiative and are empowered to invest or pull the plug on initiatives based on learnings. They do whatever it takes to solve consumer needs and move the learning needle rapidly – even if it means going outside the organization for capabilities (e.g., product development, distribution).

4. Make process a means to an end (not an end in itself)

Static brands often follow a well-established process to manage operational and/or capital investments. These processes are usually protected and inward focused, limiting the flexibility for brands to course correct or play outside their traditional sandbox.

Living brands see processes as high-level set of mechanisms that flex with business conditions. For example, package delivery process might be 95 percent automated, but the ultimate execution is up to an empowered individual with the tools necessary to monitor and take control of the process at any minute to keep it on track. Individuals have the authority to continuously modify the process to get to successful outcomes.

5. Empowering employees to say “Yes”

In static brand environments one finds large teams where many people can say “no”, but very few can say “yes” to push innovation forward. Employees often complain of the length of time and amount of effort required to make decisions.

Living brands take this challenge head on and empower employees to make decisions. Amazon is famous for “one way” and “two way” door decisions. One way door decisions are not reversible and always get more scrutiny. Two way door decisions are delegated to the business general manager and move rapidly.

To remain relevant, static brands must become living by putting the customer at the center and transforming their culture – reframing everything from recruiting and developing employees to how they empower them to get to better outcomes and experiences for customers.

This article was co-authored by Kyle Gustafson, Strategic Advisor and Former Director at Amazon. It was originally published in Adweek.