When it comes to transition, it’s a matter of when, not if. So, how can leaders bring their organizations through change and come out the other side with a stronger brand? It comes down to clarity, communication and, of course, culture—the super glue that holds your brand together through all sorts of change and uncertainty.
3 Types of Transitions
Typically, brands find themselves in three types of transitions: organizational, product and audience.
• Organizational transitions involve former leaders moving on, new leaders moving in or staff shifting roles internally.
• Product transitions are often the result of outside forces demanding you adjust your product to stay relevant. Hotels, restaurants and other companies in the hospitality and service industries faced product transitions in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic demanded they adapt their offerings to sudden changes in the market.
• Audience transitions happen when the audience you were serving is no longer viable, forcing you to find a new audience to reach. Imagine a well-established nonprofit with an aging donor base and needing to replenish its audience by attracting younger donors. Or consider how fast-food joints and casual dining restaurants might shift their strategy to appeal to a growing audience of consumers who prefer healthier, fast-casual options.
No matter the type of transition you’re facing—whether you’re bringing on a new leader, revamping your product or service, or trying to become more relevant to a new audience—it’s ultimately tied to growing and sustaining the success of your brand.
How To Lean On Your Brand Pillars Through Transition
At Historic, we use the 5 Pillars of Brand as a framework for assessing a client’s current reality and creating the brand alignment they need to navigate a transition and build their future reality.
What are the 5 Pillars of Brand?
• Culture: who you are.
• Story: what you say.
• Product: what you do.
• Experience: how you feel to your audience.
• Identity: how you’re perceived.
When these pillars are all aligned and your brand is making a clear and consistent promise across each one, you inspire confidence in your market and sustain your audience’s engagement.
But with transition comes a degree of disruption. A change in senior leadership, for example, can shift your culture. Product transitions can create ambiguity around what you say your brand does. Audience transitions can impact how you approach the customer experience.
In seasons of transition, it’s critical to manage and prioritize the disruptions. How? By knowing which pillars of your brand to invest in.
When you’re in a season of transition, use your brand pillars to assess the health of your organization. Look for brand gaps—areas where the pillars don’t align to support your brand. Then focus on where you need to close the biggest gaps.
But there’s one brand pillar you’ve got to prioritize, and that’s your culture. This should be your strongest pillar, no matter what type of transition you’re in. Culture is the tide that rises all other pillars. If you don’t deal with the ambiguity in your culture, then you’ll miss out on the opportunity to harness transition to build a better, stronger brand.
3 Ways To Cultivate A Culture That Holds Your Brand Together
Your culture has the power to not only sustain your brand through transition but also position your brand for big growth. To prioritize your culture in this season, focus on building clarity, overcommunicating and doubling down on your values.
Focus on getting clarity around your vision and imparting it to your team. Clarity’s importance is heightened during a season of change. Without clarity, it’s nearly impossible to sustain brand health.
Think of it this way: If our team is facing transition and we don’t know who we are, where we’re going, why we’re going there and what’s important, then trust gaps start surfacing and eroding the health of the brand.
With that clarity of vision, start overcommunicating—not just internally but also to your external audience.
During transitions, some leaders are afraid of transparency. They undercommunicate instead of overcommunicate. But the problems that come with not enough sharing are far worse than any problems you’d have with too much communication.
In times of transition, the more you overcommunicate to all stakeholders—even customers—the more trust you build across the board.
Double Down On Your Values
A season of transition is the No. 1 time to showcase your values and differentiation to your audience. This is especially true when you’re facing an audience transition.
Recall Airbnb’s response at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. With the world going into lockdown, the company suddenly faced two potential transitions:
• A product transition: With people stuck at home, Airbnb’s product was no longer viable. No one needed to book places to stay.
• An audience transition: Airbnb’s entire audience was filled with people who couldn’t travel. That meant they no longer had travelers to market to.
Airbnb execs not only overcommunicated but also doubled down on their values. Every change they made was filtered through their core values. In laying off nearly 2,000 employees representing 25% of Airbnb’s workforce, CEO Brian Chesky reaffirmed the brand’s value for its people and committed to doing as much as he could for employees affected by the cuts. Laid-off employees received a minimum of 14 weeks’ base pay and 12 months of health insurance. The company also built a reverse-recruitment program to help people find new jobs.
Bonus Tip: Create Your Own Transitions
Innovative brands stay ahead of product transitions by cannibalizing their own offerings. Instead of letting outside forces drive change, they create their own transitions and dive into them head-on. Apple, for example, stays ahead of the competition by cannibalizing its products rather than letting other competitors come up with a better product.
Think about the future of your brand. What emerging trends do you need to get ahead of to stay relevant to your audience? How can you create and steward your own transitions instead of waiting for change to force its way in?