Because of our innate dread of the unknown future, we always pose future-oriented questions and plan for the “to-be” state. And although the practice of envisioning a company’s success and using brand visions is a great way to remove this cloud of uncertainty, it is insufficient alone when it comes to painting the full picture.
A vision can act as the north star for your brand to head towards, a path to walk through and a final objective to arrive at. But in the same way we take account of the success vision, we must pay attention to its polar opposite: the failure. Thinking backward from the hypothetical problem to find a preventive solution is a potent strategy that complements your brand vision. Looking for issues that could arise along the way allows you to create a future in which you can easily navigate difficulties.
Today, you’ll learn about a strategy that will soften the blow of unexpected outcomes and prepare your stakeholders to deal with obstacles in a non-reactive manner.
Brand Obituary: Can your brand pass the test of time?
Brand obituary is the little-known twin of brand vision. This exercise is meant to contrast the visionary aspects of the branding process to form a razor-sharp clarity about the company. It will force you to work backward and check if your brand can stand the test of time.
The exercise premise is to think of your brand as a real person (think of what kind of person your brand would be if it were a human being) and then pretend to be a journalist who is commissioned to write an obituary for this person who died yesterday.
In writing the obituary, you must depict the brand in its best days, what made it different, and why it ceased to exist. What sort of issues and problems were the cause of its demise? What did the brand achieve? Did it keep its promises? If not, why? The goal here is to uncover possible issues that could hinder the brand as well as to look further into the future and see how its trajectory might unfold.
Note that the exercise is not meant to dishearten the staff members or your leadership team. Thinking in this way might not be the most exciting activity but it is your job as a facilitator to explain to the participants the reasoning behind it.
Now that you have a basic idea of the brand obituary, let’s see how to conduct this exercise.
How to conduct the Brand Obituary Exercise
Twenty years from now, your company is wiped out. Now, sit down and write your brand’s obituary. What would you like posterity to say about it?
Each participant should think of themselves as the journalist who has to report on the accident. The team members will have blank papers to write down the obituary. Or, if you’re running this exercise online, you can use collaborative apps and virtual boards like Miro to conduct this workshop.
Things to include when writing the obituary:
- Why did the brand die?
- What was said in the eulogy?
- What will customers remember it for?
- Who did your brand leave behind?
- What did your brand leave unaccomplished?
- Who will mourn or miss your brand, and why?
- What lessons should we learn from the brand’s life?
- What can be learned in the aftermath of its death?
- Now that the brand is gone, what will take its place?
- At the end of the exercise, discuss each other’s obituaries and see what insights you can gather about your brand.
After the participants are done writing their obituaries, have them discuss the findings.
Once you’re done, it’s time to make an action plan. Let’s see some examples and how you can form practical solutions from this exercise.
How to execute an action plan from the Brand Obituary
You have your brand obituary. You wrote and answered all of the questions regarding the last days of your brand. Now, let’s take action against the brand’s cause of death. And for this, we’re going to use the Brand Preventative Matrix™.
The Brand Preventative Matrix™ is a branding exercise developed by my team at unnus. It allows you to extract the possible future obstacles and then take the necessary prophylaxis against them. In the left column, Cause of death is where you lay down all of the obstacles from the obituary. And in the right column, in the architecture, you try to brainstorm an action step to counteract the issue.
First, try to pinpoint the future hurdles from the obituary:
After that, save the info in the Cause of death column. Once you’re done, try to brainstorm the solution in the Prophylaxis column. At the end of this exercise you’ll be left with something like this:
One of the key insights I found with my client during this exercise is the need for a brand architecture to save the brand from dilution. The founder planned to expand their product line to other fields but as it turns out, this expansion might come at a cost and could defocus their brand. So we’ve decided to establish a brand architecture to protect the integrity of the company’s product portfolio.
Know where you’re going to die, and don’t go there
The billionaire and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger, wrote in his book, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” The phrase signifies the importance of reverse engineering problems and finding solutions proactively. And instead of reacting to the problems as they come, we should implement an anticipatory strategy to our business model so that we’re not taken aback when some things go south. Brand obituary reduces the risk of unlooked-for pitfalls, and in doing so, it helps companies arrive at their vision faster.
So, the next time you think of “How should we arrive there?” think about “What might stop us?”
Sliman M. Baghouri is the founder of unnus healthcare branding agency. He coordinates branding strategies in the healthcare space with companies ranging from medical practices and hospitals to pharmaceutical and MedTech brands.