Innovation can sometimes test a brand's authenticity - James Maposa

May 11, 2017

When building a brand, companies are often challenged to stay real, be authentic and interface with their customers openly and honestly. Staying to true to the organisation’s founding values provides it with its guiding light and contributes to the organisation delivering equity building experiences.

However, this has now become a daunting task driven by a market place that wants to be kept excited about your company and its products. If your company is unable to continue to draw your target market’s attention, you risk losing them to your competitors who’re also fighting to remain relevant in an ever competitive market place.

When facing these challenges most organisations refer to innovation as a remedy for the dip in market share and relevance. Investment is then poured into coming up with a way to reinvent the organisation in a mannerJames Maposa that maintains its relevance based on current market trends.

In as much as I appreciate that it is important to remain relevant in light of a dynamic place, innovation could come at the price of shocking some of your existing customer base. Your business’ values serve as principles of how your organisation goes about its day-to-day business to achieve its long-term goals. The company’s ecosystem is also built around these values, including partnerships that the company will enter into and likewise how it will behave this market place.

These values also set the basis of the organisation’s authenticity, that is, what it can and can’t do and also why it doesn’t do certain things. All in all, the firm sets itself up to take full advantage of an identified gap within the market place, with the developed vision, strategy, character and behaviour of the organisation also aligning with the founders’ way of doing things. This way of doing things should be evaluated and its merits promoted to obtain staff and other relevant stakeholder buy-in; ultimately providing clarity on what the company is about and how it delivers value within the market place.

I assume that when a company starts losing market share, the situation is often analysed from an operational instead of a strategic viewpoint. I also suggest that often the problem is dealt with when the organisation is in panic mode and it needs to deal with the drop in sales as a matter of urgency.

It is at this point that the innovation approach takes centre stage with consultants and advisors are engaged to develop a solution that will deliver a result in the shortest turnaround and return the organisation back to its winning ways. At this stage because of the dire position the organisation finds itself in, the guidance of values and vision are often overlooked with the organisation now only being fixated on bringing something to the market that will enable it to regain lost market share in a big way and like yesterday. When presented with the solutions, management often decide on the option to take based on their gut. I think of it more as a gamble but from their side of the table bold decisions need to be made when shareholders are demanding more for their investment.

So based on the above, a decision is made and a new product is brought into the market place to salvage the ailing firm’s bad situation. The market is always curious about what a significant player is bringing to the table so they flock to your stores to test and give feedback on your new offering. It is in this moment that the truth is revealed about whether what you’re present to the market place adds or takes away from the authenticity that your organisation stands for.

There are times when you will get “lucky”, that is, when the decision makers will leverage their institutional memory to back a gut feel decision referring to the historic understanding of the business to confirm whether the new innovation will indeed restore lost market confidence. There are however times, when the organisation will get it wrong, rushed by the make or break situation or leaked information that a competitor is also planning to launch a product similar to the one your firm is working on to get yourself out of your financial predicament. At this stage caution is thrown to the wind and its full steam ahead.

If you’re wrong and the market is not happy with what you’ve brought to the table; your firm is hoping for one thing. Your company is hoping that you haven’t gone overboard with your innovation so much that it has alienated you from your extant customer base. If you’re way off the mark, it is perceived as desperate and stakeholders add to this by thinking that you’ve run out of good ideas and your brand should no longer be rated among the best.

This is a very hard position to come back from. In as much as we believe that customers forget with time when you do get it right; you’ll always be reminded about this mistake. You also don’t want to be in such a position because the new offering is supposed to save you, not put you in a worse off position which warrants you to dig even deeper to return you to a good standing with your stakeholders. So if you do get it wrong make sure it’s a wrong that can be corrected with relative ease or an issue you can turn around with your stakeholders because they still have your ear.

How you will do this is by sticking to the fundamentals. Being authentic means believing in the organisation’s founding principles and using this as a guiding light even when it comes to aspects such as becoming more innovative to remain relevant within the market place.

Evaluate a new product offering or direction based on how it will benefit your firm over the longer term and not the short term. Test the new product not just on whether it will be accepted or rejected by the market but also on whether it will enable you to add to your legacy. Refer back to your heritage and define whether the new offering is in tandem with what your organisation has always been about. In conclusion, I reiterate that strong brands are built on authenticity and everything the firm does whether in crisis mode or not should be guided by whether it adds to or takes away from what it stands for.


- James Maposa - Director Consultant Intergroup Brand Science (formerly Interbrand)

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