Five Pillars for Your Brand Strategy


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Will your brand survive in a world of economic upheaval and massive changes?

Include these five pillars in your branding strategy to build a future-proof and resilient company.

Google "why brands fail" and you’ll be rewarded with upwards of 85 million matches.

Given this abundance of expertise on the subject, you’d think creating bulletproof brands would be as easy as tying your laces. And yet, brands are crashing and burning as much as they always have. Probably more so.

Why? Well, the five or six articles I read on the subject (I didn’t manage the full 85 million) certainly don’t help.

Almost all focused on predicting what had already happened – why brands had succumbed in the past. A bit like predicting someone’s death after they’d died.

Truth is, it’s much more difficult to point out predictors of future success. Especially in a world rocked by massive cultural migration, climate change, economic upheaval, and revolutionary new forms of communication.

Having spent some time building brands at the intersection of sustainability, innovation, insight, and design, I believe I’ve gathered some useful battle wisdom. I’d like to share it by describing five pillars I believe will help brands survive, and thrive in our brave new world.


I founded a green brand agency in the heady Al Gore days. At that time, I believed sustainability would become the brand megatrend of the 21st century.

I was right. And very wrong.

Sustainability does make business sense. In a world of diminishing resources, heightened environmental legislation, and vigilant NGO’s, it is a smart brand insurance policy.

But sustainability is also a political wedge. Mention green, and 50 per cent of Americans run away, while the other 50 per cent cringe and wonder how much more it will cost.

Smart brands like Nike believe the solution is to incorporate sustainability into their brands, but not use sustainability as a selling feature. If brands were an onion, you’d have to peel back a few layers to discover the green technology in Nike shoes.

This is smart for two reasons.

First, it prevents sustainability from upstaging the brand’s key attributes. Nike’s are about technology that enable athletic performance. Period.

Second, sustainability becomes a hidden reward for brand mavens to discover. They can unearth the sustainability story with a few clicks, then spread the news themselves. On the other hand, those wanting to lambast Nike for environmental omissions will be pleasantly surprised to peel back layer after layer of sustainability initiatives, culminating in the company’s comprehensive Corporate Responsibility report.


My green brand agency was acquired by one of North America’s premiere innovation agencies, which allowed me to work in a field that defines progress for business.

What I learned was that far too many companies are ill-equipped to produce a steady stream of innovation. Most approached it haphazardly – there were a few pet projects in the pipeline, and little to no methodology for producing a steady stream of new products, services, and business models.

Today, companies that methodically generate both evolutionary and revolutionary innovation are leading in their fields. Tomorrow, factors like reverse innovation and rapid idea realization through new technology will wipe out companies that aren’t passionate about innovation.

Perennial insights

I was greatly encouraged to hear about BMW’s new iProject. Not because it was set to deliver new electric BMW’s to the market, but because it had broadened the BMW brief from "ultimate driving machine" to "mobility."

Think about it. More than half the world’s population has moved to cities. Megacities are becoming the new norm. Gas prices are not going down. The ultimate driving machine insight may fast be approaching its best before date.

On the other hand, people will never stop moving. By adopting the broader "mobility" insight, BMW is opening up an entirely new avenue for innovation – and guaranteeing brand relevance far into the future.

It pays to hold up your key insights to scrutiny, and brainstorm on their relevance in the future. At worst, this exercise might provide you with the alarming news that people won’t need your product in the future. At best, it will get you thinking with broader scope, and answering briefs that allow far greater innovation.


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