Branding doesn’t work the way it used to. Complete consistency across mediums used to be the name of the game. 

But today, with more platforms catering to different demographics, taking a more flexible approach to brand strategy is essential. As a marketer, messaging who you are across platforms in a contextually relevant way can be tough. Getting it right requires more knowledge about yourself AND your audience than when brand advertising was relegated to an ad in the paper or a roadside billboard. 

We can learn from one another–from our successes and, of course, our failures. 

Here’s your sketch for building a flexible brand. 

Identify Platforms That Make Sense 

Almost every marketer’s gut impulse when a new platform takes off is to create a presence for our clients. Maybe we are too obsessed with being on the “cutting edge” and showing off a shiny new toy to clients. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, before you launch your senior living community on Tik Tok, take a minute to stop and think: 

  • What audience am I trying to reach? 
  • Does that audience populate this platform? 
  • Do I know how this platform works? Do I understand the users? 

There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, but you can only stretch the concept of experimentation so thin before it becomes a reach. Identify your sensible platforms based on your audience demo, and go from there. 

Walk, Then Run

Before you recommend putting a brand on a specific platform, make sure you understand it. Spend some time getting a sense of the vibe the users are giving off. Internet platforms are full of their little in-jokes and memes. They can be complicated to navigate and simple to screw up, especially if you go in without experience and vision. Take this tweet from Monterey Bay Aquarium from 2018 as an example: 

Bad Brand Tweet Example

Sure, it got a lot of Twitter likes, but it also led to backlash, claims of cultural appropriation, and an eventual apology from the aquarium. The company wanted to jump into Twitter’s “internet-speak” without considering the consequences and potential backlash. They didn’t understand the platform or the users, and it created a PR mess. This is not an isolated incident; we see brands making miscalculations online all the time, and it often seems rooted in a misunderstanding of platform and user behavior & expectation.

Don’t even get me started on that Burger King fiasco

Shout out to Abby, though. We wish her nothing but the best. 

With that out of the way… 

So we’ve established the basics of picking a platform (you can read more about that here). Let’s talk about what this blog is supposed to be about: making your brand flexible in a chaotic environment. The #1 rule to making your brand malleable is tough to swallow: you can’t fall too in love with your big picture brand identity. That doesn’t mean that you should crumple up the fundamentals of the brand you’re creating and toss it out the window just because you want to be on Twitter. It does mean that you need to consider evolving your brand to fit into different contexts sensibly. 

Your brand voice is consistent.

Your brand tone will change depending on your environment. 

Let’s use that senior living reference from above as an example: you might want to serve ads to prospective customers inside two age demographics — potential residents and those with the power to influence a potential resident.

These audiences respond to different things, value different things, and speak differently. You need a brand flexible enough to target two demos on two platforms with completely different rules and expectations. 

So how are brands doing this? Let’s take a product inherently cross-generational like toothpaste.

What is a toothpaste brand like Colgate doing on different platforms, with different demos? Here’s an example of a campaign that Colgate ran on Facebook in 2019 in the UK:

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These are video stills (you can see the full ad here), but you get the picture. 

Right around the same time, Colgate also ran a different campaign on Tik Tok. In this case, they introduced a face filter and reached out to 100 influencers to help spread what they called the #SmileDayChallenge. This is what that sponsored content looked like:

@_arishfakhan_Take the #SmileDayChallenge @colgate World Smile Day®️ October 4th♬ G.A.B – Gill (길) / BoA (宝儿)

@sunny_kalra55
Take the #SmileDayChallenge @Colgate_Palmolive World Smile Day®️ October 4th
♬ G.A.B – Gill (길) / BoA (宝儿)

These two campaigns look very different. They use two different strategies on two different platforms- one conventional digital ad targeting and the other starting an influencer-driven TikTok trend. They do so because they try to reach two different audiences of different ages with different preferences and expectations. But at their core, these two campaigns are using those different strategies to communicate the fundamental idea of their brand, as put best by their marketing director Lyndon Morant:

“Our brand’s core and essence is about optimism, and we believe that people with optimism who convert that optimism into action are the ones who change the world for the better.”

Cut out the schlock in the second half of this sentence, and you can see how these two campaigns, delivered in different ways to different audiences, are still utilizing that brand essence of optimism and action. Do I personally find either of these campaigns especially compelling? Not really. But they are a great example of making your brand flexible; it’s a valuable case study on what goes into making a modern brand with multiple audiences at play.

What does this teach us?

As marketers, we need to be more flexible, more informed, and more open-minded. We need to pick up new ideas and new platforms pretty quickly — and we need to be intelligent and thoughtful about how we utilize them. Otherwise else we’ll end up like the Monterey Bay Aquarium or, even worse, Burger King.

It also means we do have quite a bit more opportunity to be creative (yippee).

The boundaries of brand essence can become more stretched, or more abstract, or even more rigid to fit nicely into different generational expectations, rules, and sense of humor. Building a more flexible brand requires being a more flexible person. That’s an exciting prospect.