Building your brand in uncharted territory

Brand Risks and Rewards
Sep 13 2016

Launching or expanding your brand in uncharted territory is an exciting endeavor that can reap great rewards over the long term. But it is important to confront the potential risks for your brand, whether you are entering a new industry, expanding geographically or targeting a new customer segment. Take blockchain as an example.

Blockchain is a relatively new industry – at least its intersection with traditional financial markets is – but it’s growing at a rapid pace. Countless companies, from long established global firms to early start-ups, are aiming to establish their own footholds and grow right along with this industry.

Expanding with your existing brand

Entering a new market with an existing brand brings specific challenges. First and foremost, with a nascent industry, such as blockchain, there are naturally significant unknowns. What is this new industry about and where is it headed? Whom will it benefit? Will it replace an existing category? And of course, what is your best opportunity to enter it with your brand and what footprint, growth and incremental revenue can your business gain?

By entering into such a new industry, you might first need to educate your audience (both existing and new targets) on what it is and why they should care, and then why they should even think of you within that space. That alone brings challenges.

If you have already achieved success with your branding, your audience equates your brand with their previous experience with it. Will they successfully make the transition with you in the new space? The potential risk is that your brand stretches too far beyond its core identity and its essence becomes diluted, damaging both your new endeavor and your existing business. While it’s still early for a well-documented case study on a misstep like this in blockchain, the odds increase with every new entrant and passing week.  

Not only that, but you might have to defend the industry that you are already committed to entering. In the case of blockchain, there are mixed opinions about its value and potential, with plenty of folks banking on it as being hugely important and others playing the role of naysayers. Only time will tell who is right, but all brands – big and small – playing in this sandbox are certainly predicting its widespread adoption and game-changing potential, not to mention the impact on their bank accounts and wallets (in the cryptocurrency of their choosing, of course!).

Furthermore there is always “fall-out” as a new industry evolves and settles into place. That dynamic also occurs in existing markets, but it is particularly prevalent in developing. ones There’s been nothing short of a stampede to “get in while it’s hot,” but soon the survival game begins.

To make the cut, your brand has to convey a clear and compelling message, quickly establish its territory while remaining nimble to adapt to unpredictable shifts, and then deliver on its promise. The blockchain arena is a solid example of how important it is to ensure your brand can rise above the crowd.

Launching a new brand in a new space

When launching a new ship in new waters, there are a few extra pitfalls to look out for as well as advantages to capitalize on. Be on the lookout for both when introducing an entirely new brand. As mentioned already, some of the more established, larger companies might find it challenging to adapt their business models, processes, technologies, marketing and even their cultures to fit a new purpose. Seizing the opportunity to pass them on this journey can demonstrate the vigor of your own new brand, convey that your business is “made-for-purpose,” and help you quickly establish a successful position. On the other hand, and maybe even at the same time, you might be an unknown going head-to-head with a company who has a successful track record, even if their reputation was created in a different category. To gain a position of strength, you will have to be consistent with your message, demonstrate your results, and above all be smart and creative with your brand communications, marketing strategy and business plan.

Take risks, discover rewards

Whether you are a new or established brand, the potential reward of launching in a new industry can be huge. So can the potential loss – or at least a lost opportunity – for not taking the risk of expanding into such new territory. Look at Yahoo!, who could have dominated search early in the brave and still establishing world of the internet. Not once, not twice, but thrice (really?!) between 1998-2002, they passed up the opportunity to acquire that little startup now known as the incredibly valuable Google.

On the other hand, recent examples like Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn may show an enlightened era of creating smart, complementary, connected tools for professionals. Microsoft can base its own blockchain strategy on the LinkedIn network.

Time will tell if risks like that will pay off in this next brave new world, but without risk, there are rarely rewards.

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