Resilient Brands: a framework for brand building in the digital age



“I can’t think of an industry not touched by technology. Technology has turbo-charged disruption, lowering barriers to entry and making it possible to scale new ideas quickly because of the way in which our world is now so interconnected. So why are so many established businesses not waking up to the opportunities and the threats?”


Jonathan Mildenhall, Chief Marketing Officer, Airbnb

The rules of branding are changing radically. Established brands are taking too long to adapt. Born and raised on image, message and surface, they look at the new winners in the digital age and try to copy surface, when they need to copy substance.

Even smart marketers do it.

Let’s make an app…

Let’s make a viral video…

Let’s do a Red Bull space jump-style stunt…

It’s not about the app, the video, the stunt. Resilient brands, brands that endure, are ones where the brand’s truth runs deeper than a strapline and a campaign.

We are living through a time of radical change. Digital technologies have transformed the way we communicate, learn and shop. They are disrupting the way we consume news and media.

Our relationships with brands have changed as a result. We increasingly demand responsive, engaging brands and authentic brand experiences.

As businesses transform to adapt to the digital age, there is an imperative to reimagine what brands are and how they behave.

How do we build brands that are relevant and resilient in a time of rapid change?

This book explores this question and outlines:

         -The three elements of a resilient brand

         -The strategic models needed to create a resilient brand

         -How to apply this to your own business



What is a resilient brand? 




“We live in a world that is changing so fast… a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous… Therefore, there is a constant need to re-evaluate the way we adapt to this changing environment.”


Marc Mathieu Unilever in Contagious, Issue 40, Q3 2014


Brands aren’t working as hard as they could. They are too often symbols of reassurance rather than agents of change.

Why is this? Resilient brands are able to adapt, to change direction, take knocks and setbacks and come back stronger. They are able to extend to new products, new business models and take their customers with them.

Resilience comes by moving away from the idea of a brand as a sacred, designed thing, guarded by high priests in agencies or internal brand teams, dispensed for use in sales marketing materials with instructions of rituals of layout and language to be strictly observed. Look and feel, brand iconographies and colour schemes and grid layouts are important, but they are not the sum of the brand.

Resilient brands run far deeper than fonts, logotypes and tone of voice. They are truths about how the company goes about its work.

The context: disruption

As technology transforms markets and creates new opportunities, incumbent and disruptor brands are battling it out for audience attention.

The incumbents – the established market leaders – are defending their position, using their scale and legacy brand loyalty to maintain their market share. They are aware of the changing market, but because of their governance, size, leadership and culture, it takes them time to transform and adapt. Their brands are used as symbols of trust, credibility and emotional reassurance. They are built around vision, positioning, personality, values, names and logos.

Disruptors – a new set of digitally-led competitors – take advantage of changes in customer behaviour and business models to re-define markets to their advantage. They are disrupting established brands by uncovering new market space.


Brand as a tool for transformation

Many incumbent brands are carefully crafted monoliths – impressive but only if you decide to pay attention to them. Otherwise they become part of the background, things you work around and live among without worrying too much about them, like the fountains and lions in Trafalgar Square on a busy, hot day – designed as icons of power, they become paddling pools and playgrounds.

Brands were designed to be unchanging, certain, stable and not ambiguous. Brands were decrees, carved in stone, inviolable – holy books were created and handed around agencies and media about how to treat the brand, venerate it, use it sparingly and in accordance with strict laws. There was faith involved in this magical thinking – that the brand was something that could be owned and prescribed and controlled.

Resilient brands have three elements:

Brand as belief.
A common purpose that provides a platform for meaningful expression and conversation. The place where the business and customer beliefs meet.

Brand as strategy.
A framework for use that creates competitive advantage.

Brand as experience.
A brand is only as strong as the last experience in a customer’s eyes. What can take years to build can take seconds to destroy.



Brand as belief




“Be interested in what people are interested in. Compete for their attention on their terms, not on yours.”

Gareth Kay, Chief Strategy Officer, Goodby, Silverstein and Partners


Common purpose

Common purpose moves brands from messages to relationships with customers. It unlocks a whole new set of interactions, creating value, differentiation and advocacy.

Resilient brands are born out of a belief that is shared with customers. They recognise and value common purpose.

A common purpose is credible and meaningful for both customers and employees. It appeals to both heart and mind, creating a relationship that is both emotional and rational.

To create value from a common purpose, brands need to get close and stay close to what their customers need today.

One exercise that Cynthia Montgomery, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard and author of The Strategist, suggests is to think about the death of your business. What would the world be like without it? Would it be the same? If you don’t make a difference, nobody will mourn you when you’re gone. And if they won’t miss you then, how much do they need you now? Knowing what makes you matter to your customers is critical.

A brand with a common purpose owns a space where value is created for both the business and its customers.

Patagonia: from a founder’s belief to a business mission.

Patagonia founder Raymond Chouinard has built his company’s brand on the ‘responsible economy’ purpose. Its website states:

“We at Patagonia are mandated by our mission statement to face the question of growth, both by bringing it up and by looking at our own situation as a business fully ensnared in the global industrial economy.” 

The brand’s Worn Wear campaign is an example of brand as belief. Customers voices demonstrate how the business acts and what its values are.

“What is also powerful about a shared value lens is that it creates a north star for the future development of the brand and its businesses, and with that, a compelling sense of accountability. How impactful it will be for both brands and the world when brands adopt their sharedvalue north star and begin to ask themselves, ‘If this is true of our brand and business, and if this is true of where we started, then where do we go from here with what we endeavour to put into the world?”

 Kirk Souder, Co-Founder, Enso Collaborative


Finding a common purpose

Common purpose emerges when we consider how customers use, advocate or connect with our products and services. It doesn’t come from considering how to message customers. Common purpose goes beyond messaging. It allows brands to have relevant, meaningful interactions with customers at each step of their decision journey.


How does it work?

On the left side, list what customers believe and need. This can be informed by analytics, customer research and social media monitoring.

On the right side, do the same exercise with the brand. Consider brand values, vision, products and promise. This can be informed by stakeholder interviews.

Once both sides are full of ideas, keep the common elements and decide on the strongest idea that is meaningful to both sides.


Looking back at the Patagonia example, both brand and customer agree to produce/make things that don’t cause unnecessary harm. This provides a platform for campaigns and communications. This isn’t revolutionary. It’s customer-first marketing.

Chipotle: putting the customer first

Chipotle has been reimagining its brand and how it engages with a new generation of customers. It developed a common purpose that was unique in its market: fast food can be sourced responsibly.

This common purpose answers the needs of Chipotle’s audience and is communicated through actions and content that are true to their lifestyle.

These include its Back to the Start and Scarecrow campaigns, which questioned industrial food production methods; its Cultivating Thought author series, curated by Jonathan Safran Foer and featuring the work of Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell and Sarah Silverman; and its free Cultivate Festival, which takes place across a number of cities in the US and focusses on food, ideas and music.

In Q3 2014, Chipotle’s revenue increased 31.1% to $1.08 billion, compared to Q3 2013.

The way the brand communicates is grounded in an understanding of what its customers believe and how they consume media. In the old advertising days, planners would call this an insight. A common purpose is an insight on steroids, because of the volume and granularity of data we have access to.

Common purpose builds a bridge between what customers are interested in and what your brand is good at. It gives your business a strategic roadmap that no competitor can claim.




Brand as strategy




The second element of a resilient brand is ‘brand as strategy’.

In a hyper-connected world, brands can’t rely on being proxies for quality. Customers are always a click away from online reviews or comparison sites that scrutinise a brand’s ability to deliver on its promise.

In The Strategist, Cynthia Montgomery defines effective strategy as a ‘system of advantage’. She argues that the advantage cannot be realised unless there is clarity and purpose at the core.

She uses Gucci as an example. The brand was able to re-establish itself in the market and challenge its competitors after enduring a challenging period when it lost touch with its values and its audience’s needs.

Gucci started by understanding what people thought of the brand. Based on this data, it reconstructed the business’ design process, production, supply chain, marketing and retail. In 2013 Gucci took the lead on mobile sales for a luxury brand.

Resilient brands drive business strategy.

Netflix: using brand as a tool for change

Netflix has been through constant transformation since its inception. Understanding customer need has been part of Netflix’s business model since the days of DVDs by mail. Its recently released Netflix Long Term View highlights how people no longer enjoy the linear TV experience – something the company is primed to exploit. As such, Netflix has made its product distinctive by creating a customer-first business.


The hourglass model: brand as strategy

The challenge for marketers is to drive consideration of a brand’s product and services, while maintaining a consistent experience across all touchpoints.

The hourglass model helps to organise brand activity around common purpose.

It is a framework to make decisions and respond to customers and the market. The model provides a resilient framework that enables a common purpose to inform all interactions across all communication channels.

It also provides a framework for rebalancing the role paid media plays in bringing the brand to life.

How does it work?

The top-down approach is the traditional world of advertising, where messages are linear and delivered at scale and where brand communications are delivered through campaign planning.

Top-down is on-off communication that focuses on messages about the company and its products. It typically gathers little knowledge about the customer. The main purpose is to create brand consideration. The message is focused on benefits for potential buyers and is geared to deliver against awareness and acquisition targets.

Bottom-up is an always-on approach that is connected and iterative. It supports a narrative that builds over time, that feels fresh and in-sync with what’s happening in the world. It supports dialogue with the customer. It has personality and supports personalisation. The goal isn’t always to push a product, but to build trust – to create a meaningful relationship with both existing customers and those who are considering the brand.

Bottom-up activities are geared to engagement, acquisition and advocacy targets. It allows brands to try new initiatives and new service development.

Ideally, the top and the bottom of the hourglass are in balance, creating constant value around the common purpose for both customers and the business.

Why does it work?

No brand can shift away from a campaign mindset overnight. The effect of traditional campaigns is understood, comfortable and just about measurable. However, it is unsustainable to carry on using digital as just another messaging channel.

The hourglass model provides the balance between a traditional topdown campaign mode and an always-on bottom-up activity stream. The dynamic between the two creates value when the data and lessons learned from bottom-up programmes feed into the top-down ones and vice versa. An example of this is the recent campaign from Nike, where the company turned its audience’s running data into 100,000 different videos, dubbed Your Year.

When this happens, the brand owns a unique platform in which predictability is higher and benefits are more measurable. This is a system of advantage organised around a common purpose. This is ‘brand as strategy’.



Brand as experience




“A great digital experience is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a make-or-break point for your business.”


Forrester Research 2014, Top technology trends for 2014 and beyond

The term “customer experience” has become increasingly commonplace. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what customer experience actually is, and – crucially – how this emerging discipline can produce positive value for a brand. Forrester Research cuts through a lot of this uncertainty by defining customer experience as simply:

“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

A key characteristic of resilient brands is that they are obsessed with how their brand is perceived by their customers because, to a great extent, brand is perception. All brands would naturally wish their customers to like them, to respect them, to have a good perception of them – and of course to buy from them again and again – but is this wishing enough to invest in true customer experience improvement efforts?

A recent survey, conducted by Accent, found that customers that have a positive experience with brands are:

  • 80% more likely to make additional purchases
  • 27% more likely to join a loyalty programme
  • 79% more likely to tell family and friends
  • 36% more likely to write online reviews
  • 32% more likely to subscribe to email updates.

The key takeouts from the research is that in order to maximise return on investment, organisations need to understand and engage with customers across the entire lifecycle, not just pre-purchase.


How to create a positive branded experience

The traditional way of viewing how customers make a purchase – the so-called “purchase funnel” – is dead and gone. Resilient brands embrace new ways of understanding their customers, and how their customers engage with their businesses.

At Brilliant Noise, we have adopted McKinsey’s “Customer Decision Journey” (CDJ) model to visualise customer-first brand experiences. The CDJ details the different phases a customer goes through with a brand, from consideration to buying, bonding and advocating.

There is a natural point in the customer decision journey model when a customer decides whether or not they will use a brand’s products or services again. The single factor that most influences this decision is the quality of the interactions experienced by the customer. Forrester research shows that good customer experience also correlates positively to the most potent business metrics: willingness to consider another purchase, likelihood of making a recommendation, and also likelihood to switch to a competitor.

Resilient brands know that a brand is a fragile thing and that it’s at risk from the most empowered generation of customers ever known – customers who have instant access to always-on instantaneous broadcast channels (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) to make their true unfiltered feelings known when they have a poor experience with a brand.

One disastrous example comes from Vodafone Australia. Vodafone was a well respected global brand with a solid market share in Australia, but in 2010 its mobile phone network became unreliable. Customers experienced dropped calls and outages for hours, sometimes even days at a time. Out of nowhere, a website and Twitter hashtag appeared: #vodafail. And then a class action lawsuit from customers whose complaints were largely ignored by Vodafone. Customers fled Vodafone in their hundreds of thousands. And Vodafone Australia has still not fully recovered – five years on, #vodafail is still alive and well – and still racking up very public complaints.

Heeding instructive stories like this, resilient brands move beyond brand image management to “customer experience management”. They identify brand interactions at the customer level and convert these into a series of branded moments. They focus on creating experiences that build both short-term connections and long-term relationships. They understand that every customer interaction will either reinforce the brand image, or risk damaging it.

One such resilient brand is First Direct, the UK’s “most recommended bank”, winner of the “Which? Best banking brand 2014”, and number one in Nunwood’s Customer Experience Excellence League. No small feat.

How do brand and customer experience connect for First Direct? They are one and the same. First Direct’s brand proposition is a better customer experience than you would find in high street banks – despite having no physical branches.

In its television advertising, for example, we meet a talking lizard character chasing a pizza delivery guy down the street for delivering the wrong kind of pizza. “I flipping hate bad service!” he yells.

No mention of interest rates, or financial products, or special offers. The message is: if you want a good experience, do business with us. This is emphasised on its website, where it says: “We offer you all the usual banking services, like a current account, savings, cards, mortgages, loans and insurance, but where we’re different is the way we offer them. We listen, we have a conversation and we recognise that it’s your money, not ours.”

In another example, ASOS identified the need for style advice to drive the purchase of fashion products. It sounds obvious, but not easy for an online retailer to offer. ASOS was able to leverage the opportunity via a Google product called Helpouts. It allowed customers to join video chat sessions with ASOS stylists to get free style advice. During the launch campaign, there was a 243% increase in traffic to and 84% of Helpouts attendees were new customers.

Shoshana Zuboff, in her book Creating Value in the Age of Distributed Capitalism, writes:

“The old logic of wealth creation worked from the perspective of the organisation and its requirements. The new logic starts with the individual end user. Instead of ‘What do we have and how can we sell it to you?’ good business practices start by asking ‘Who are you?’ ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How can we help?’ This inverted thinking makes it possible to identify the assets that represent real value for each individual. Cash flow and profitability are derived from those assets.”


This is the essence of brand image and customer experience being absolutely inseparable. And, judging from First Direct and ASOS’s numerous accolades, a very powerful combination indeed.

How does it work?

In a connected world – or what Forrester has dubbed the “Age of the Customer” – a brand is judged on its actions and the experiences it provides. In order for your brand to become resilient and customer obsessed, you need to think about brand interactions at a granular level – as a sum of many experiences, starting with customers and their needs.

How can you translate traditional brand assets into a brand experience? One approach is to extrapolate values into distinctive aspects of the experience. By matching brand manifestations and customer expectations, you can create value for both sides throughout the decision journey.

Building brand through customer experience is not exclusive to the marketing function. It also requires commitment from the leadership team to support the necessary cultural shift throughout the business.

It requires an expanded way of thinking that goes beyond single channels or campaigns. Resilient brands need to start thinking in terms of a larger “ecosystem”, in which they live and operate. Forrester defines this “Customer Experience Ecosystem” as:

“The complex set of interdependent relationships among your company’s employees, partners, and customers that determines the quality of all customer interactions.”

Kerry Bodine, Principal Analyst Customer Experience, Forrester Research.

Why does it work?

Resilient brands don’t over invest in the consideration phase. They are present throughout the customer journey. Moving away from brand messaging and starting to use the brand as a customer experience design tool can be daunting. When achieved, it creates high levels of consumer engagement. The business can ultimately deliver growth through customer loyalty and advocacy – essential for success in the digital age.





Managing brand identity is not enough to create and maintain a great brand. A resilient brand.

If you were to assess your brand health tomorrow, many branding consultancies would provide you with a report that looks at the messaging and consistency. How does the brand look in different platforms? Is the identity consistent? Are the messages and the narrative coherent and differentiated?

This branding method asks “Are we saying the right things?”, when a better question is “Are we doing the right things?”

Every customer touchpoint matters. Every interaction is an opportunity to create a branded moment.

Successful leaders create resilient brands. Brands that share a common purpose with their customers, that build a system of advantage, and deliver a consistently outstanding experience.

Where are you in your market?

Are you an incumbent or a disruptor?

Do you share a common purpose with your customers?

Is your brand a tool for transformation?

Does it provide a system of advantage?

Is the brand experience good enough?

It’s time to build your resilient brand.