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Reevaluating the Way Forward

regenerative brands part4: alive

Contributor Kitty Vo
©Somewhere Else
Brand Atrophy

How do we know something is ‘alive’? Usually, it displays signs of growth, it responds appropriately to changes in the environment, it’s intricately connected with the living ecosystem. Businesses that demonstrate healthy growth are not just surviving, but thriving in their communities and cultures. However, in today’s radically transforming world, many businesses are very much struggling to stay afloat.

Brands that are Alive are more than ‘not dead’, they shape who we are and how we live. They creatively evolve in proactive relationships with the people and places they serve. This symbiosis and interconnectedness helps them continuously create energy, influence and momentum, all of which feed healthy business growth, attract loyal employees and customers, and equip them with sensitive responsiveness to ever-changing circumstances.

Inward-looking brands that refuse to adapt to the people and places they serve are simply limiting themselves. They hide behind busyness and proliferating programs that preserve outdated business models. The result? Stagnant businesses that cannot retain talented staff, fickle discount-seeking customers and become forgettable brands that die from irrelevance.

So what does it look like for a brand to be Alive? It involves questioning the priorities of the status quo. It’s doing the hard work of sensing and reflecting on how products and business models can be evolved to give back more than was taken. It’s a brand with a culture of showing up as an active, living, responsive and evolving part of our community and world.

Reactive → Adaptive

Alive brands don’t make reactive decisions limited by blind spots and insecurities. They plan using adaptive and dynamic strategies based on clear science, strong core values and collaborative practices. This equips them for the leading edge.

For example, a local medical clinic may question the definition of the traditional ‘healthcare’ business model which is slow to respond to the popularity in fitness tracking wearables. Their senior team collaborates with patients, their families and community stakeholders to review the latest research looking at the interconnectedness of mental, physical and social health.

Design for → Design with

Alive brands design with the diverse passions, perspectives and participation of their stakeholders. They don’t see themselves as experts who are designing for people.

The local medical clinic from the earlier example decide to redefine their KPIs around overall wellness, rather than ‘disease prevention’. They commit substantial resources to co-creating a healthcare app with their patients and their families. This app integrates with fitness tracking devices and monitors patient physical activity, nutrition and medical diagnostics across multiple domains in their lives.

This provides a more holistic view of each patient’s wellbeing and leads to better outcomes not just for the individual, but their family and the community the clinic operates in.

Perfection → Progress
Alive brands are not paralysed by chasing perfection. They have a more fluid capacity to iterate, and invent together with the stakeholders they serve. Alive brands prioritise transparent, measurable and meaningful progress over time.

For example, a telco offering affordable packages recognises that many of their customers come from underserved community groups. Their leadership team launches an initiative to provide resources for customers who are cut off from the usual relationships that strengthen people socially and emotionally.

These resources are not just about making calls or sending texts, but provide tips on how to stay connected and communicate better with their families overseas during times of the pandemic.

Why being an ‘Alive’ Brand is Good for business
Being Alive creates deeper, more personal relationships with the people brands want to reach and leads to more thoughtful and better-designed products, services and experiences. Product development and marketing becomes intertwined, led by an eye-opening two-way dialogue with the people whose problems you’re solving.

Alive brands put down deep roots in the community. Daily conversations and interactions with customers, employers and partners are fed internally up the chain to open-minded leadership with a bias to action.

The business develops a more intimate sense of how they fit into a living ecosystem and take responsibility for serving it. They don’t just ‘seek customer feedback’, but actively co-create solutions with their customers and clients that can benefit people and the planet.

This is stakeholder capitalism at its best.

Reflection questions
  1. When creating a new product, how do you create a design process that welcomes people across all walks of life, beliefs and lifestyles?
  2. How can you modify this design process to build trust and unlock insights?
  3. What human truths and cultural taboos are often hidden from view?

Summing it All Up: A brand is a Vehicle for Values.

As brand builders and marketers, we’re culture shapers and ultimately, a brand is not what we say it is, it’s what people say it is. A brand is not just what we do, it’s the result of what we’re doing. It’s a customer’s gut feeling about a product, service or company that lives in their heads or their hearts. All of this is reflected in how people vote with their dollars.

Our responsibility now is to communicate the right values and spread them like wildfire. How can we positive influence people’s beliefs, desires and values through the design of our products, messaging, the look and feel of our campaigns, our own behaviour, our company culture? How can we ‘repair the damage’ caused by shareholder capitalism?

Regenerative branding is a powerful toolkit for spreading better values. For too long, marketing has been used to make people desire the wrong things. We’ve designed things that don’t include the true cost of our actions. People are not ‘The Other’ and nature isn’t ‘Out There’, we are interconnected in a living ecosystem and our actions affect each other.

It’s time for people who want to future-proof their businesses to step up, shape culture and help build the future we all want.

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