How do you keep a brand relevant?

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Designers Yasushi Kusume and Neil Gridley have helped lead design and brand management for the likes of Philips, Electrolux and Tesco. They are also the authors of Brand Romance, a guide to building a loved brand – we asked them to share their advice on keeping a brand relevant.

Keeping a brand relevant starts with understanding your audience. If you don’t understand and adjust to the future needs and desires of that audience, and of wider society, your brand can rapidly erode. But like cliff erosion sometimes you don’t notice it until the cliff starts falling into the sea.

We can probably all think of brands that have lost their relevance, and this applies as much to small businesses as big corporates.

In his guide to avoiding brand erosion for small businesses the Houston Chronicle’s Jared Lewis advises firms to ‘develop a long-term mentality for preserving your brand.’

That mentality is on show at the other end of the business scale with Reuters recently revealing that Apple is exploring of bio-sensing technologies in response people’s increasing appetite to use technology to improve their health and wellbeing. To this end Apple is building a team of senior medical technology executives, offering a hint of what the iPhone maker may be planning for its widely anticipated iWatch.
With the UP wristband bluetooth headset makers Jawbone have taken their first steps into the health market

In our book, Brand Romance, we look at the importance of understanding the short and long-term needs of your audience. Whilst many companies consider the short-term satisfaction of their customers, we believe they also need to anticipate their long-term happiness in order to become a loved brand.

Here design is able to contribute significantly – helping you understand your audience’s desires, articulating possible options and then creating the roadmap to turn these into commercial reality.

It’s applying human insight that ensures innovation is meaningful to customers

Most brands will need to continuously innovate to ensure long-term sustainability. And whilst it’s technological progress that often drives this, it’s applying human insight that ensures this innovation is actually meaningful to customers.
Google Glass has been praised for its innovation but is yet to receive mainstream adoption

These insights are usually gleaned from research into the long-term aspirations of your audience. Doing this research you’ll quickly discover that it’s a challenge to ask people to think so far ahead, but it’s vital to determine two things:

What are your audience’s unmet or undiscovered needs
What would they find socially acceptable in order to meet these needs (and how this is changing)

For example, we think it’s fair to assume that one of the long desired unmet needs of human being is to manage long distance communication. Many people harbour a secret desire to be Superman, able to be anywhere at any time (it is partly this desire that has made him such a popular character). During the last century, the telephone, and later the mobile phone, were innovations designed to fulfil this need.