The two questions that haunts every human endeavor is “Where do I begin?” and “Where do I end?” When do I choose to disrupt and impose my will on a situation, and when do I back off and let nature take its course? The boundaries constraining beginnings and endings, while sometimes very clear, can more often be a source of great pain and dissention.
I had a beautiful moment some years back when I ran into a brilliant, self-doubting environmental reconstruction professional. I wanted to visit the Seven Sacred Pools at the end of the Hana Highway on Maui. Dylan and I braved violent weather like they hadn’t seen in 27 years that included hail and washed-out roads. We arrived at the Seven Sacred Pools at 9am.
We were the only visitors around, and a guy who looked like Willie Nelson in a park ranger’s outfit approached us. After some chatting that got serious and deep quick, he offered to take us to see the Seven Sacred Pools. About halfway down the trail, we realized that he needed someone to philosophize with and was relieved to have bright people to unload his woes. He was responsible for the oversight of the restoration of the Seven Sacred Pools. He had been since his service in Vietnam, and had received a PhD in biology, specializing in environmental reconstruction. What was getting him was “Where do I begin?” and “Where do I end?”.
He explained that while the Seven Sacred Pools was, in his opinion, a great success, he pointed to other projects he directed that caused ruination. These included protecting an endangered local deer that eventually defoliated a large swath because they no longer had the right mix of predation and survival. He saw the Seven Sacred Pools as a metaphor for a question that will have to be asked all over the planet. During the initial survey of the pre-existing conditions, they found out that the immigrant Polynesians had altered the Pools, and that those interlopers had planted a lot of the current foliage some 400 years earlier. So, what should they be restoring the Pools back to?
With brands, this gets wildly complex—Where do I begin? Where do I end? I have done brands for startups, makeovers for established brands, and brand extensions for new products and services. Today’s brands are often complex, multilayered and interdependent, so change is expensive.
Communication systems, social networking and advertising are getting more powerful, and companies are finding that they have to adjust their entire branding program to accommodate a technology that has quickly dominated their sector. If there’s a platform like Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook or Twitter that has been adopted by most users in your industry, you may be forced to adapt your entire way of expressing your brand so that you look best on that platform.
Your logo identity, the story that you tell, and the image you choose to represent your company may not be right for the kind of media that’s in the marketplace. While it looked great in print, it may be horrible for new media applications. Also, your technical back-end might be old and poorly integrated. A brand that wants to exude confidence and trustworthiness must be consistent at every touch.
As we all know, there are situations where we can do a few minor adjustments and greatly improve a forest, a home or a brand. But there are also situations where getting rid of the old and ushering in a revolution makes sense. Most situations require a careful mixture of destroying and building. Patching will often result in loss of brand equity, while careful crafting and planning are what it takes to create a healthy brand and keep it alive.