Brand Bravery for Competitive Advantage

By Katia Kreft

Over the past several years, my colleagues have looked at what creates authentic brands. What we found is that overwhelmingly, consumers (particularly younger ones) want to support brands they believe are authentic. In fact, 85% of millennials and Gen Zers shared that is a key driver of choice for a brand, according to our 2022 survey.

This may not come as a shock. After all- masquerading as something you’re not is the ultimate no-no, and brands are no exception. From greenwashing to rainbow-washing and purpose-washing, businesses across industries have been called out by discerning customers when their professed values don’t line up with their actions.

However today, we’d argue that while authenticity remains important…it’s no longer enough on its own.

The most successful brands know that to be unabashedly real- you also need to be brave. Bravery means not only being true to who you are, but also continuing to embrace growth.

Bravery means not only being true to who you are, but also continuing to embrace growth.

Those who have been on the journey know that growth isn’t just about what we want to move toward…progress requires a candid assessment of the things we need to move away from.

We’re good at perceiving threats coming our way – but not necessarily at cataloguing the baggage we carry with us, that weighs us down and keeps our worldview smaller than it needs to be. For example, many brands cling to their category definitions and existing business models. They are so dedicated to their heritage and values that they leave little room for new ideas. And while they’re in a protective mode, new players come in asking, “What is unnecessary? What seems important, but isn’t?”

The first task required of brave brands might be coming face to face with the fact that there are things we should leave behind. In fact, the ability to answer this question may represent the line in the sand between those who are transparent (even if carefully so), and those who take their commitment a step further to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Of course, it’s far easier to do the same thing we’ve been doing, rather than alter course- particularly if it feels true to who we are. Just look at the recent rise of “refresh” vs. “rebrand” efforts- check out FastCompany’s latest “The Rebrand is Dead…” article.

In it, Rick Barrack, chief creative officer and founding partner of CBX, is quoted as saying, “Particularly when you’re dealing with big category leadership brands, it’s easier to … get buy-in with a refresh than it is a rebrand.”

The danger is that change is constant, no matter what we’re most comfortable with. Disruption is inevitable. And an organization that is slow-walking transformation – in other words, changing slower on the inside than change is happening on the outside- is one charting its own course toward extinction.

What is brand bravery?

As we’ve noted, bravery means being willing to let go of things that are no longer actively working for us – even if they’re not yet working against us. Consider someone who seeks to establish a workout routine focused on preventing injuries, rather than healing them.

It means breaking free of the holding pattern. Turning off auto-pilot.

It means reframing the question from what can we do better to – what is my brand of different? Often, a helpful exercise here is taking the perspective of ‘category naivete.’ If we weren’t locked in a battle about X attributes, what would we notice is up for grabs?

Gap Inc. recently released Q1 earnings outpacing expectations. CEO Richard Dickson is focused on improving operational efficiencies and brand storytelling to enable each brand in the portfolio to embrace its reason for being and its role in culture.

“Bravery means being willing to let go of things that are no longer actively working for us – even if they’re not yet working against us.”

It means having confidence in who you are, and showing zero hesitation in expressing it to its fullest extent. Liquid Death is a canned water brand now valued at $1.4 billion. Its success represents a complete subversion of all of the tropes of the water category- and an unapologetic embrace of its brand identity across every touchpoint.

Ultimately, evidence of bravery is a brand that embraces experimentation, unconventional thinking, and disruptive strategies to capture customers’ attention and inspire them.

Brand bravery is NOT being rebellious for the sake of it. This would come across as performative, and earn the scorn of potential customers, rather than their respect.

Bravery also doesn’t need to mean fearlessness. Instead, perhaps a good check on whether you’re pushing hard enough is, “does this make us a little uncomfortable?” If not, does it represent enough change to be worthwhile? Often a tinge of fear mixed in with excitement is the sign that we are on to something.

In a world of abundant choice, access and information, authenticity is essential- and yet even full transparency has become table-stakes for generations of consumers stepping into their buying power and choosing who to align themselves with.

Bravery means pushing further.

Bravery means being a magnet, more than a mirror.

How has your brand been brave recently?