Ding, Ding, Ding. The bell rings and the fighters come out of their corners.
Out the blue corner, with a market cap of $100 billion, steps forward the Fortune 50. Fortune’s been around for a decade, and while they aren’t the fastest puncher, they’ve weathered many a tough round and have learned how to last.
Out of the red corner charges the lighter, faster startup. Startup’s new, but they attack forward, confident that their approach will throw Fortune completely out of rhythm. And it just might. That or the disruptor’s meaningless blows will bounce right off Fortune, and the behemoth will pivot slightly and with one punch leave the startup laying on the mat.
While it obviously isn’t that simple, this is commonly how agencies seem to frame the battle between disruptors and incumbents. Whoever’s corner you are in, you completely change your approach.
And there is admittedly a good reason for this, particularly when it comes to branding projects. Startups speed through product and innovation cycles, hell bent on failing early and often so they can get a product in front of users. Maybe, just maybe, they create a minimum viable brand. But what constitutes viable? How often does a MVB truly represent the essence of a brand, what it believes in, and what distinguishes it from the competitors?
For Fortune 50s, their leaders know digital disruptors are the cool kids on the block, but in many cases their product innovation remains bogged down, forcing them to acquire the startups that succeed (See Unilever and Walmart). Internal brand change happens at the same lagging pace -- organizational politics and clashing stakeholders keep brand development from moving fast enough to keep up with today’s evolving digital-first consumer.
But I want to posit that there lies a middle ground that agency partners must focus on instead of the nature of their competition.
Startups must learn to be more thorough in their branding, but large, mature organizations must learn to be agile (with a lowercase a). We must combine the best of both ways of working and redefine what it means to be a minimum viable brand if we want to meet the expectations of consumers that now care less about logos, and more about what a brand represents.
We must consider an approach that forces the disruptor to discover what they stand for, and that gives the incumbent a rally cry to unify stakeholders and accelerate their brand development.
We must design organizations of all sizes from the inside out to brand in the "post-digital age."