The Living Brand: Why We Looked Backward to Go Forward
Jan 30, 2018
By: Wan Kim, Smoothie King CEO
Every brand starts at its roots and grows outward – an ongoing process known as branding. There’s a reason the term is in a “verb” form, ending with an “-ing.” That’s because your brand is never perfect. It’s never finished. There’s always more you can do.
When I first became CEO of Smoothie King, change was on everyone’s mind. Many people asked how I planned to change the brand to secure its vitality and expand its reach.
However, a brand is not a static thing that one person can change at will. Your brand is alive – a living, breathing extension of the people who contribute to it, from executive leadership to franchisees to employees in the field. Your brand is a collective vision. So, if you want to improve your brand, start by shifting your perspective to reflect this truth.
As a living entity, your brand can’t change on a dime, but it can evolve. Your brand’s DNA – its ultimate vision or purpose – should be what drives this evolution. As you gain a better understanding of your company’s vision, it becomes clearer which ways your brand needs to evolve to achieve this vision. Therefore, defining, knowing and living your company’s vision should be your primary focus as you work to improve your brand.
Returning to Our Roots
In 2013, Smoothie King’s leadership felt like the brand had lost touch with its roots. We made a commitment to look back in time, rediscover our brand’s DNA and realign our goals accordingly. We found that the core of our brand is to serve smoothies with a purpose. Our founder started blending smoothies with the goal of making people feel better, and that still lies at the heart of what we do. Our brand’s vision – to be a part of every health and fitness journey – is a natural extension of our DNA.
With this vision in place, the process of improving our brand became much simpler. A strong vision allows you to stop asking, “How does my brand need to change in order to keep up?” and start asking, “How can my brand evolve to help make this vision a reality?”
For us, this led to improvements like a new logo, a purpose-driven menu and our Cleaner Blending initiative. All of these changes strengthened our brand and its vision while helping us remain relevant and give guests the best possible experience.
When a company fails to define its vision or stops striving to make its vision a reality, its brand becomes stagnant. Many business leaders fall prey to the belief their brand is in good shape as long as sales are strong. They get too comfortable, forgetting that customers will quickly desert them when they find something more relevant or more inspired.
As a leader at your company, it’s your job to focus on vision and maintain that big-picture perspective. Listen closely to feedback as you determine whether your products, practices and culture bring your brand closer to its ultimate goals. If you charge ahead in your enthusiasm to evolve your brand and leave guests in the dust, you have missed the purpose of vision-driven branding. Your vision should hinge on enhancing the lives of your guests, so their satisfaction is integral to your success. Also, don’t forget about the people who aren’t guests yet – they offer valuable insight about why they haven’t bought into your brand’s vision.
You inevitably will encounter obstacles during your brand’s evolution. Perhaps franchisees don’t like the changes they see, or maybe your new initiative failed to take off. When these things happen, don’t give up. Stay true to your vision in the face of failure, and figure out what went wrong. If a vision-driven idea doesn’t work, don’t toss it out. Change your approach, or reevaluate the way you’re measuring success. If franchisees are pushing back, communicate openly with them about how new initiatives contribute to their success and how their success furthers the brand’s vision.
Improving your brand is a never-ending cycle of clarifying your vision, setting goals and creating tactics to achieve those goals. Once you’ve achieved something, you must return to the drawing board – to your roots – and look at your vision once again. Don’t be afraid to look backward in order to move forward. It’s a challenging process, but you will see your brand become more relevant, relatable and robust.
With branding, as with all aspects of business, vision and purpose are key. A strong vision can inspire the many people who make up your brand to get better every day.