How to find the right time for change

How to find the right time for change

When is it time for a brand to adapt? And in what instances should it decide that, despite changing circumstances, it should stay the same?

The ability to adapt, and make wholesale changes to your organisation, is what drives many business forward. Without it, IBM would still be trying to sell huge mainframe computers and calculators. Xerox would still be promoting the merits of its photographic papers, while Nokia would never have had its time in the spotlight as one of the leading mobile phone manufacturers. In all likelihood, the mobile brand would have remained separate companies, operating paper mills, rubber works and cabling projects in Finland.

Innovation and the possibilities of new technology are what have driven change here. Sometimes, however, it’s the straightforward desire for growth. For example, in the UK in 1999, brand recognition issues across international markets famously saw Oil of Ulay re-labelled as the more widely known Olay. Similarly, in confectionary, the UK’s well-loved Marathon bars became Snickers – as they were known in Europe – in 1991. Opal Fruits become Starburst in 1998, and Dime bars became Daim bars in 2005.

Finding brand synergy across markets was the goal in these instances. Such transitions can drive growth, but sometimes cause a backlash. When the chocolate bars known as Raiders across Europe were re-branded as Twix (as they were known in the UK) in 1991, for example, sales across the region plummeted. The brand was ready for the change, but customers weren’t. Adaptation can be a risky business.

Why marketing has FOMO

Often, behind the new product developments and re-branding exercises, you can discover a case of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. This recent neologism, and acronym, is most often associated with social media-shorthand for a way of describing a nagging personal feeling that, by not attending an event, you’ll be missing out on something crucial.

It can be used in a professional setting, too. The speed at which new technology and online trends appear to take hold, and at which new consumer products hit the market and disrupters arrive on the scene, means that marketers are constantly under pressure to adapt to new ideas and circumstances. Ours is an agile world, where organisations must be nimble – and be prepared to ‘change or die’, as the maxim goes. FOMO is very real in marketing.

But where does this leave consistency, or long-term planning? Of course, organisations will want to disrupt their business model – if customers demand it, to stay relevant, or to fill a gap in the market. Many that don’t risk becoming virtually obsolete – think Polaroid, Kodak, Blackberry and, yes, Nokia. But there may also be times when marketers should decide that, despite changing circumstances, they should stick rather than twist. The driving force behind adaptation should never be fear alone.

Finding the right time to adapt

Change should always be made in relation to wider business goals. If your company’s profits are showing signs of decline, consumer expectations have changed, or you have located gaps in a market, then organisational change might be called for. At other times, change isn’t always a solution.

When it does come to scoping out change and adapting what you do, however, it is often better to look backwards rather than forwards. Ahead lie all manner of possibilities – zeitgeist-grabbing trends, roads less travelled, and radical innovation. In time, some of them will prove their effectiveness, but some will be revealed as gimmick, a distraction, or a passing fad.

Instead of looking ahead into the dazzle of the future, perhaps its best to look to what’s behind you and the things your organisation knows for sure, and use this to build a solid platform for change. An organisation that plans well for the future is often one that learns from its past successes – and failures. Similarly, companies that are well-equipped for change are often those who know that it takes a lot of planning to be agile in their adaptations.

Whether it concerns product, branding or a communications strategy, here are five points to think about when considering change:

  1. Build a cross-departmental team that will bring its experience to the table when planning for the future, and assess possible areas for development.
  2. Conduct thorough market research and consumer analysis to show there are solid foundations for change, and to prove that you are not simply bandwagon-jumping.
  3. Use evidence-based assessments to demonstrate how the changes will impact all areas of the business.
  4. Consider your rivals – if a competitor is diversifying or expanding into a new market, this may give you clues to your own brand’s future options.
  5. Continue to listen and refine – and finally, be prepared to fail and call time on the project if it isn’t working. Kellogg’s Coco Pops, remember, were Choco Krispies for a while – until customers’ dislike of the re-brand became clear.

Take a look back and remind yourself what we learnt from the news stories, trends, innovations and campaigns in 2016. 

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