Rethinking Brand Models

Embracing the Journey Together with Customers

Rethinking Brand Models

Rethinking Brand Models

1024 574 Michael Kraabel

We are beginning a new era in branding, and the call for a revamped framework is loud and clear. A new model centered around the customer journey, emotional connections, shared values, and adaptability is not merely a strategy but a philosophy that can drive brands to new levels of relevance and success.

By reevaluating our branding approach and adopting this holistic, journey-centric approach, we can forge deeper, more meaningful relationships with our customers, paving the way for mutual growth and success. Consumer preferences shift like sand, and markets evolve at lightning speed, so traditional branding frameworks are being challenged to show how they can work in today’s marketing world. The quintessential approach to branding, which primarily focuses on the product and company-centric metrics, is no longer sufficient. This calls for a significant change in approach—re-evaluating how we perceive and implement branding strategies. The new framework must place the customer at the heart of branding and emphasize the shared journey brands undertake with their customers.

For the purposes of this thought experiment, we will call this new model The Brand Voyager Model (BVM).

The Limitations of Traditional Branding

Over the past 50 years, thought leaders in marketing and branding have developed various brand models, each introducing unique perspectives and methodologies to brand building and management. These models have successfully guided countless companies in creating, positioning, and evolving their brands. Many of them have inspired my work over the years, as well. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these branding approaches, it is important to evolve our thinking to adapt to changing customer needs and abilities.

Traditional branding has often been about creating a strong, memorable identity and unique value proposition, coupled with consistent messaging across all platforms. While these elements remain critical, this approach can overlook the often spirited nature of customer relationships. Old models often treat a brand as a static entity rather than an evolving relationship between it and its customers. Conventional ways can fall short in today’s landscape, where customer empowerment and engagement hold unprecedented importance.

Companies often treat brand positioning as a set-it-and-forget-it element of their strategy, taking on branding exercises sporadically, perhaps during times of significant organizational change, often including high employee turnover. These infrequent refreshes—encompassing foundational workshops, strategy documents, and identity revamps—tend to fade from collective memory over time.  New team members are brought in and want to make their mark on the company. The result is that any good work previously developed is likely to be pitched in the bin.

The vital elements established during these exercises, meant to guide the brand’s voice, vision, and customer engagement strategies, often gather dust in forgotten corners of the company’s digital archives. This approach neglects the changing nature of markets, consumer preferences, and competitive landscapes, all of which can shift dramatically in short periods. Consequently, there’s a pressing need for a new model that champions the continuous evaluation and evolution of brand positioning.

Such a model would ensure that a brand remains relevant and resonant with its target audience and that every member of the organization is aligned with the brand’s core values and strategic direction. Emphasizing adaptability and engagement, this approach would keep the brand vibrant and aligned with both internal values and external market demands, ensuring long-term success and coherence in an ever-changing business environment.

Customer-Centricity as the Core of a New Framework

At the heart of a new branding framework lies customer-centricity—an ethos that places the customer’s needs, experiences, and values as the primary focus of all branding efforts. This perspective recognizes that the value of a brand is not just in its product or service but in the experience it offers and the emotional connection it fosters with its customers. A customer-centric approach demands a deep understanding of the customer’s journey, from awareness and consideration to purchase and beyond, ensuring that every touchpoint is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

Brand models often diverge in their starting points and core focuses, creating a fundamental distinction in how they approach brand strategy and development. Traditional models, including Simon Sinek’s widely acclaimed “Start With Why,” emphasize beginning with a company’s internal aspects—its purpose, values, and the “why” behind its existence. This approach centers on articulating a compelling reason that resonates internally and is projected outwardly, aiming to align the company’s core beliefs with its customers.

Contrastingly, The Brand Voyager model shifts the focus outward from the onset, starting with the customer’s values and reasons for seeking solutions. It prioritizes understanding the “Why” from the customer’s perspective—why they are searching for a solution and what emotional or practical/rational needs drive their behaviors. This customer-centric approach seeks to align the brand’s offerings and communications with the existing values and desires of the customer rather than starting with an internal manifesto of purpose and trying to find customers who align with it. This shift represents a significant evolution in branding philosophy, moving from a company-outward to a customer-inward perspective, ensuring that the brand’s strategies and narratives are deeply rooted in the real needs and aspirations of its audience.

Emphasizing the Shared Journey

The evolution of the digital landscape has blurred the lines between businesses and consumers, making interactions more frequent, personalized, and direct. This has transformed the customer journey into a more complex, non-linear path, where the traditional funnel model no longer applies. Acknowledging this complexity, the new branding framework views the customer journey not as a series of transactions but as a continuous, shared journey that evolves over time.

This journey-centric approach emphasizes the importance of listening to and learning from customers at every stage, adapting and responding to their changing needs and preferences. It’s about creating a dialogue, where feedback loops are encouraged and integral to shaping the brand and its offerings. Brands that excel in this model treat customers as passive recipients and active participants in the brand’s evolution.

Building on Emotional Connections and Values

Another cornerstone of the new framework is the emphasis on building emotional connections and aligning with customers’ values. Customers are bombarded with choices; emotional connections can make a brand stand out. These connections are forged through shared values, authentic storytelling, and experiences that resonate on a personal level.

By aligning a brand’s values with those of its customers, companies can create a sense of community and belonging that go beyond the transactional nature of business. This alignment not only attracts customers but also turns them into loyal advocates for the brand.

While originating from different perspectives, Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” and the Brand Voyager Model can be seen as complementary approaches within the broader context of strategic branding. The synergy between these models lies in their collective emphasis on understanding and articulating the core motivations driving both the company and its customers.

Here’s how Sinek’s model complements the Brand Voyager Model, creating a holistic branding strategy:

Starting with “Why” from Within

Sinek’s model urges companies to focus on their raison d’être—identifying the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires them to do what they do. This internal exploration helps companies establish a clear, compelling brand identity grounded in authentic values and beliefs. It’s about inspiring people to act because they resonate with the brand’s foundational “Why.”

Extending the “Why” to Customer Motivation

Where Sinek encourages companies to start with their internal “Why,” the Brand Voyager Model takes the next logical step by aligning this internal purpose with the external motivations of customers. It shifts the focus to understanding why prospective customers are seeking solutions in the first place—what are their needs, desires, and the values that drive their decisions? This model ensures that the brand possesses a strong internal purpose and meets the customers where they are, addressing their motivations and aspirations.

Creating a Mutual Connection

By synthesizing the insights from both models, brands can foster a powerful connection that resonates on a deeper level with their audience. Sinek’s model ensures the brand’s messaging and actions are authentic and purpose-driven, while the Brand Voyager Model guarantees these efforts are relevant and responsive to customer needs. This dual approach ensures that the brand’s core purpose aligns with the customer’s values and aspirations, creating a mutual connection that is both meaningful and impactful.

Ensuring Relevance and Resonance

Together, these models create a holistic branding strategy that ensures relevance and resonance. By starting with a strong internal “Why” and extending this purpose to meet the customer’s “Why,” brands can remain agile and responsive. This alignment not only attracts customers but also fosters loyalty, as people are more likely to stay engaged with brands that reflect their values and offer solutions that resonate with their personal motivations.

The Need for Adaptability and Innovation

Finally, the new branding framework acknowledges the need for adaptability and innovation. Brands must be agile, ready to pivot their strategies based on customer feedback and emerging trends. This agility is not just about keeping pace but about anticipating changes and being proactive in offering solutions that meet the evolving needs of customers.

By re-evaluating the way we look at branding and adopting this holistic, journey-centric approach, we can forge deeper, more meaningful relationships with our customers, paving the way for mutual growth and success in the ever-evolving marketplace.



All stories by: kraabel