Today’s world isn’t one of absolutes. Change is the order of the day—a reality that’s not about to disappear. These changes aren’t just about people’s desires. They’re about behaviors, likes and dislikes, and even values. Similarly, brands used to be absolutes—wholesome but stubborn, resistant to the slightest shifts and averse to adaptation. But for today’s brands, working with change, rather than resisting it, is more important than ever before. Whether the company is a startup or an established player, flexible evolution helps brands expand and ready themselves for the future. Adaptive brands stay competitive and ensure relevance with consumers.
Successfully pivoting a brand—whether executing a 180-degree turn or a slight change in strategy—is all about keeping your eye on what consumers really want, even if it’s different from what the brand originally provided. Brands like Twitter, PayPal, Netflix, and IBM are often cited for reengineering themselves around changing customer expectations. Here are three lesser-known brands that have successfully flexed and reenergized themselves through agile, adaptive strategies.
In 2008, 40-year-old Joe Kudla had a realization: Nearly 6 million of the 17 million people practicing yoga were men, but very few brands offered yoga wear for that audience. With a large demographic showing immense potential, Kudla decided to fill the void.
Kudla began by having niche retailers stock his Vuori brand, but he quickly faced serious cash burn at a rate even faster than his revenue growth. Wondering what was going wrong, the founder decided to research his buyers. A key insight marked a turn in the brand’s journey: Customers weren’t using Vuori for just yoga. In fact, other activities like running were higher on the list—yoga was just a supplement to most men’s overall fitness regimens. According to Kudla, this was the brand’s “pivot or die” moment. “While female consumers might want to identify as yogis, men really don’t,” Kudla explained. So the brand reconfigured its strategy, positioning, and retail plan to be more relevant to its target audience.
By revamping the brand’s messaging to focus on a variety of fitness activities undertaken by men, Vuori moved from being a yoga brand to a lifestyle brand for men, allowing its audience to choose how they used the clothing and where they wore it. From 2015 onward, without changing a single product, the brand became all about activewear designed with a West Coast lifestyle in mind. This new focus is paying off. Vuori’s retail footprint has expanded substantially, and its annual sales are expected to reach over $30 million.
Pained by the unchanging experience of standard banks, Moven was conceived as a digital solution to help consumers shop, buy, live, and manage their money better. The brand was targeted at today’s new breed of digital natives—people who have different expectations for their banks and their financial experiences. The brand’s ethos centered around banking 3.0, finding relevancy when most banks were struggling to manage the curveballs of a mobile-first user experience.
From making personal payments by email, text, or Facebook to making in-store payments through the National Finance Center (NFC), Moven sought to establish a new paradigm for consumers and banks. However, its product required a sizeable behavioral shift for consumers—a shift the banking landscape wasn’t quite ready for.
Although Moven started out by marketing its mobile banking app directly to consumers, it has evolved into co-branding relationships with large banks across geographies, helping it bring established financial institutions into the digital age. It found a way to speak to millions of consumers who were wary of depositing their paychecks directly into a neobank, but actually liked the money management solutions Moven offered. Building on its strengths of simplicity and understanding users’ pain points, Moven adapted to find new growth and relevance with consumers.
Long-distance communication was introduced to the world in 1844, when Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland. Among the rush of companies trying to capitalize on the technology was The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, founded in 1851. Following a merger with competing telegraph networks, the company changed its name to Western Union.
In its heyday, Western Union sent out more than 200 million telegrams per year. But with the growth of cheap long-distance phone service business began to slow, until it was ultimately halted by the advent of the internet. In 2006, Western Union shut down its telegram business for good, but revived its wire transfer business (which began in 1871), taking its first steps in the world of online money transfer.
Western Union has not just survived disruptive new innovations, it has harnessed its power to transform its business model and navigate today’s fast-paced economy. It diversified into offering consumer-to-consumer money transfers, businesses solutions, bill payment services, and stored value options such as prepaid cards. It recently launched a money transfer bot for Facebook Messenger users in the United States to send money to more than 200 countries across 130 currencies.
With more than 550,000 agent locations in 200 countries, Western Union is the world’s largest money transfer service. In 2016, 268 million consumer-to-consumer transactions and 523 million business payments took place worldwide through Western Union. Although telegrams are no longer part of Western Union, the company continues to lead the multicurrency money-transfer and payments category due to its innovative evolution.
A checklist for building adaptive brands
A few common themes emerge from these examples, showing how brands can endure by staying relevant and competitive.
1. Understand the customer’s desires
By relentlessly pursuing information about customers’ mindsets and expectations, brands can keep track of where their needs are being met and monitor the pain points of where the brand is falling flat. Gut feel won’t be enough to help brands navigate the things that are working well and the things that are faltering.
2. Go after the right metrics
Tracking the right set of brand, business, and competitive metrics is critical to help brands stay ahead of the field. Topline numbers will show only a part of the story. In-depth analysis allows companies to see how, when, and where their business can pivot.
3. Keep a flexible outlook
Sometimes evolving a brand means letting go of long-held offers or moving away from the current core customer. Businesses need to be unafraid and ready to change—looking toward the future rather than lingering in the past.
4. Make smart, strong choices
Deciding the future course for a brand requires an objective mindset. Feedback from the marketplace or internal parties can be misleading. Navigating change requires bravery and certainty of focus to make the optimum choice, so brands must know their mission and stick to it.
Building flexibility and adaptability into a brand’s strategy is equally if not more important than just growing sales. In fact, it’s the key to ensuring survival—not just today but tomorrow. By building flex into the fiber of their brands, companies can ensure that they endure and thrive for years to come.
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