Brand Version 1.1

How often do you see a bunch of kids playing on the street? Or in a local park? Or a backyard? Not often, I’ll bet. Now tell me how often groups of young friends play indoors on a computer. Too often?

Children’s behavior has changed dramatically over the past decade. My evidence is anecdotal, but I’m convinced that not only have children’s recreational preferences, social interaction, play, and games changed but so has their facility for fantasy. Stuff that might have entertained a kid a decade ago would be considered boring these days.

Racing Matchbox cars and playing soldier in the woods are recreational relics. And so are products that apply to such play, which requires children’s own imaginative involvement, invention, and group cooperation. The reasons for this behavioral change are many; one of them is the emergence of the interactive world.

Just think about it. A Matchbox car doesn’t come preprogrammed for action. It only goes when the child decides to make it go. Imagine the same car on a computer screen, part of an interactive animated game that the player has to control by successfully navigating the vehicle through virtual obstacles along a virtual racetrack to avoid crashing.

The big difference between the Matchbox car and the virtual one is that the latter challenges the player constantly, and when the player begins to achieve a level of competence in addressing the game’s challenges, the program upgrades the game’s level of difficulty.

So what has this to do with branding? Let me explain.

Just as manufacturers change toys and games to satisfy evolving play preferences, brands must also keep pace with social evolution if they are to preserve their relevance in the marketplace. Brands need to reinvent themselves as versions 1.1, 1.2, and so on to ensure their consistent message remains audible and capable of engaging the ever-changing consumer.

The point is that just as kids love stories that continue, that harness their interest and compel their attention, consumers need to understand a brand’s story, feel a relationship with it, and see its development over time. Static brands meet the consumer’s gaze passively and, because they bore onlookers, lose their attention. Static brand stories don’t survive.

So a brand has to evolve over time in response to its users’ socially informed preferences, needs, and priorities. A brand needs an inbuilt story that can develop with changing times and maintain dialogue with its consumers as they grow and mature. I’m not referring to constant logo change or variations in the language and voice by which the consumer recognizes a brand. It’s vital that these identifiers remain constant, meaningful points of reference for consumers. It’s the context into which the brand is placed that needs to evolve.

Kellogg’s has managed this strategy for years, providing new stories on the backs of cereal packages and creating ongoing versions of the same product. Here are some other examples: Lucasfilm creating new relevance for “Star Wars” by marketing special toys that parallel whatever film is being re-released, Nintendo engaging in rapid development of Pokimon and supplying a constant flow of new games, and toy stores redecorating on a weekly basis to ensure that something new and exciting is always awaiting kid consumers whenever they revisit the store.

It’s not easy, believe me. But contextual change — the relevance it bestows upon your brand in the consumers’ eyes — is mightily important, especially if you want to capture young audiences. Add life to your brand by basing its identity on an ongoing story. Appeal to children’s imaginations and ensure that a surprise is always waiting for them when they honor your brand by returning to it.

Make sure that the consumer feels the brand is alive. Only by doing so will your brand earn the necessary consumer loyalty. And it’s loyalty that will win the attention of your brand’s audience members when they next pass by your product in two weeks’ time.

So, what’s your brand’s version 1.1?

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