Brand Life Stage 3: Teen Brand

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Willoughby Design



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Brand Life Stage 3: Teen Brand

4 Ways Strong Branding Practices Can Help Ease Growing Pains

The move from the baby stage into childhood is an exciting time. The business is young and fresh, entrepreneurial spirit is strong and the future is bright. And then adolescence sets in. Why is that such a scary word?

Third in our Brand Life Series, we face the emotions, challenges and victories associated with growing up: Teen Brand.

Any brand with its hopes set on playing in the big leagues is bound to enter that moment between childhood and adulthood where some fine-tuning is required. The teen years are often when a brand discovers its true identity and has the bandwidth to invest in a more “grown-up” voice and visual design system. At this stage, the business concept has been proven and it’s ready to scale.

The teen years can be awkward, but they can also be transformative. Growing pains are real. There are several ways a strong branding team can help smooth the transition.

1. Changing Friend Groups: Brand Evolution

You know that moment when the kid who has taken years of dance announces that they really want to be a costume designer? This happens to brands, too. Remember when Amazon was a book store?

Many brands start locally or in test markets with the idea of selling a certain product to a certain audience. As the concept is tested, sometimes it evolves, triggering a business model shift, which, in turn, triggers a need for a brand evolution and, in some cases, a complete rebrand. When St. Louis Bread Company began to expand regionally, they determined that their positioning was relevant but the name was too limiting and rebranded as Panera Bread.

2. Leaning into your Strengths: Branding for Scale

Continuing with the Panera reference, if your business is expanding into new markets and locations, this could require the creation of a buttoned up visual kit of parts and a brand standards portal that is easily accessible by a growing marketing and sales team. This work is especially valuable if looking to bring in investors or entice franchisees.

In addition, sometimes teen brands face the need to simplify and streamline for stronger impact across broader channels. Specialty brands that work in a little boutique can easily get buried on the shelf at Target if not properly commercialized for mass retail.

However this is done, it is vital that these decisions are weighed against your brand promise. Determine what elements of the brand, packaging or product are so core that they should remain the same and what can be streamlined without sacrificing brand.

3. Keeping your Seat at the “Cool Kids” Table: Life in the Spotlight

When a brand is small and running under the radar, it can get away with being a little more rogue. Criticism might exist but it’s more of a “look at those crazy kids” dialogue. While it’s always nice to be noticed, as a brand starts taking up more space in the world and those newfangled ways start working, it becomes a real threat to the competition and the established way of doing things. That’s when the magnifying glasses come out.

Uber could do business as usual until it gained a big enough footprint that it was noticed. Then it faced questions about business practices and operations. At this point, transparency is key and strong brand communications of values and best practices can be used to clear up market confusion. This is a good time to learn to never stop learning — alongside a good public relations team.

4. Don’t Forget Who Got You Here: Building a Strong Employee Brand

In a start-up culture that is actively led by a visionary leader, the launch team makes the dream happen together. But as new team members are added and the opportunity to get to know the founder over foosball is replaced with an update from the CEO at the “Seasonal Success Symposium,” there can be a cultural hiccup.

An internal branding effort should start with evaluating what made the culture special for the employees in the first place. Revisit the founding story, core values, reason for being and rally cries that the company was built on and thoughtfully evolve the ways they are shared. When this is done well, internal stakeholders remain the brand’s best advocates because they know the history, feel connected to the vision and are vital for the future. It feels good to be a part of something special. And really cool swag never hurts.

Buckle Up and Enjoy the Ride

The ups and downs of the teen years can be lonely. Some days it feels like everyone wants to be you and other days it feels like the world is against you, fighting change at every turn. If you surround yourself with champions and put in the work to attract the best employees, investors and customers, you’ll hit your prime (next up) before you know it.

Willoughby has been helping brands invent, evolve and reinvent for 45 years. From start-ups to legacies, we have been there to help brands live their best lives.

Where is your brand in its brand life? Visit our Brand Life page to learn about all of the stages.