A brand is an ecosystem and must be managed as such

Dynamic and connected. These are two words that, by nature of a brand's very definition, will always apply to the way brands exist in the world, and bring to mind the concept of an ecosystem. Brands are in constant adaptation, co-creation and refinement by producers and consumers alike; the enduring brands are the ones that can strike a balance between evolution and and rooted stasis. In addition to being intrinsically dynamic, brands are deeply connected to the humans, systems, beliefs, cultures, technologies and strategies that bring them to life.

Sometimes the size and importance of this truth, from a business perspective, is staggering - and exciting. I was recently working with a client to strategize goal-setting for internal marketing efforts when it was discovered, through honest conversation, that a culture of responsibility towards helping to market the firm - and indeed, of true interest in the effort - simply didn't exist among their staff. Suddenly our conversation was about their culture, not just marketing. This was energizing and interesting for everyone involved, as we started to grasp the fact that total, comprehensive team buy-in was going to be just as important, if not more so, to their business development efforts than just typical marketing efforts like advertising alone. It was a reminder that once you lift one edge of the web of a brand to peer underneath, you find it connected to every other piece of the business, its communications, and its people.

The takeaways of this concept are, first, as a branding decision maker, don't forget to keep your pulse on the big picture of what's really happening in and around your brand. It's impossible to know everything that's happening all the time, but intentionally open communication channels between different silos in the business are important to keep everyone on the same page, and on the same team (the brand's team). Empathy is an important part of a successful brand ecosystem, and ensuring that your marketing team understands the realities and perspective of the manufacturing department (for example) is key to ensuring that their storytelling strategies are rooted in truth. Think of it as a brand authenticity check-and-balance system.

Second, remember that every decision in the business must be thought out in terms of its full brand impact. As an example, I had the experience of working in a company that faced a fairly straightforward packaging issue. The packaging team developed a perfectly reasonable packaging solution. But their solution failed to take into account the customers' experience of the original packaging, which was a central and important part of the brand's aesthetic and allure. Their solution would have dramatically changed the way the products looked and the way the glass interacted with light. This one attribute accounted for their uniqueness and beauty, which really couldn't be compromised. So the packaging solution was ditched altogether.

A final point is that it would be smart and proactive to instill an overall appreciation of and sensitivity to the connectedness of the company brand with every employee, as part of their on-boarding process - not just brand leaders and managers. Just as in an ecosystem, every employee action, whether or not it comes into contact with the outside world, has a butterfly effect throughout the business and the brand. Empowering team members with a sense of their larger role, as builders and creators working towards the brand's bigger purpose, is a good way to improve feelings of connection and engagement. 

This is the magic of branding that fascinates me endlessly: it's big work, and managing, building, leading and strategizing brands requires application of all five (or more) senses as well as a healthy dose of empathy and systems thinking. Spend a week thinking about your brand in the framework of an ecosystem and you may start to see connections that you otherwise hadn't noticed, as well as signs of struggle or health among its parts. It could be a refreshing lens to apply, or at least an interesting new way to see the forest for the trees.

Clare Albers