“All the world’s a stage” is the famous phrase that kicks off a monologue in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. After comparing life to a play, the second half of the speech catalogues the seven ages of life, from infancy to death.
Every day, brands take the stage to perform and captivate an audience. But do these brands, once their performance commences, share a common lifecycle too? Do they follow a passage of time in the same way we do? If there are Seven Ages of Man, are there Seven Ages of Brand?
1. The Newborn
We come into this world an infant, without past or identity. The world is our oyster as we strive to find our voice in a complicated, crowded universe. The future is ours for the taking – an exciting and intimidating prospect.
Entering the world for a brand is the same. To succeed, they must start-up and work out their reason to be. They seek to establish a distinctive character by making as much noise as possible and grabbing attention.
But noise isn’t everything. To develop and flourish, new brands must answer a pervasive need or speak to a blooming trend. To grow past infancy, they need to fulfill a need that has not yet been met.
An example would be our neighbours, Bulb, who are shaking up the UK energy market by making it cheaper, simpler and greener.
Theirs is a story of future promise.
2. The Insurgent
As we enter adolescence, our rebellious instincts are triggered. Why should we neatly slot into a world full of injustices? Why should we accept the existing landscape?
The trope of the turbulent teenager exists for brands too. After the tentative years of growing up, they are ready to rage against the machine and shout their angst from the rooftops. Whether via technological innovation or subversive point of view, these brands intend to channel their inner Wednesday Addams and disrupt the status quo.
Brands like Swedish renegades, Oatly, unashamedly tear down people’s perceptions with an idealism that any teen radical would covet.
Theirs is a story of fighting the man.
3. The Challenger
Once we leave the choppy waters of adolescence, we retain the desire to make waves.
With a bit more knowledge and experience under our belts, we continue on our quest to do remarkable things, but with firmer footing. It is from these fresh foundations that challenger brands emerge. The route to stardom is paved with radical thinking and a fearless drive to overthrow the leader, dramatically transforming the existing order.
Superstar challenger brands like deliveroo retain their maverick status even once they’ve garnered mainstream success. Their historically irreverent values keep them apart from the crowd, much like the personality they established as an adolescent.
Theirs is a story of doing something different.
4. The Market Leader
At a certain age, we feel like we’ve finally ‘made it’. We’re in our prime. We’ve ticked all the proverbial boxes and we’re flying high. We ask ourselves, what’s next?
When brands become market leaders, they need to alter their goal from simply rising to the top. They need to become bigger than themselves. More brands than ever are championing social causes to assert their confidence, proving they can turn to ‘bigger things’ than their own brand world.
Nine days after President Trump signed an order to temporarily close America’s borders to refugees, Airbnb aired an ad during the Super Bowl spot called #WeAccept, featuring a series of people of different heritage, along with the words “We all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”
Theirs is a story of the sky’s not the limit.
5. The Falling Star
We wake up one day with a gripping urge to buy a Lamborghini. To finally take that gap year. To recapture our misspent youth. Before we know it, the cliche-ridden mid-life crisis is in full swing. Brands too, after years of success and optimism, find themselves in a place of unease, feeling insecure about encroaching younger models. Often what goes up, must come down.
No brands are bulletproof to mid-life ‘falling star’ syndrome. Even well-loved institutions like Oxfam taken down by scandal and tabloid scrutiny.
Theirs is a story of keeping people onside.
6. The Zombie
There comes a time when we don’t feel the energy or vibrancy that once drove us. Everything starts to fray and split at the seams. We start to feel invisible. For brands, this equates to the dreaded era of the ‘Zombie Brand’. One glance at the British High Street is the equivalent to a scene from 28 Days Later. Yes, we know these brands but what are they doing? What are they saying? IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?
At a certain point, if brands fail to pay attention to consumer trends, become irrelevant, and refuse to innovate accordingly, they slip into the shadowy recesses of memory, before slipping away entirely.
Remember the last time you sent a BBM? Didn’t think so.
Theirs is a story of the walking dead.
7. The Resurrection
It’s all over. We’ve come to the end of the road. Kicked the bucket. Given up the ghost. But for brands, biting the dust is less final. Brands can be resurrected, and even come out stronger than before.
Take the Beano – a printed comic strip from the 1930s – surely a certain casualty to the technology-driven, hyper-connected world. Instead, by undergoing a major digital transformation and addressing underserved seven to eleven-year-olds, the brand has captured the hearts of a new generation of children.
Even seemingly bygone brands can reincarnate if they fuse their brand essence with up-to-date behaviours.
Theirs is a story of reincarnation.
The lifespan of a brand isn’t linear. Not all brands tread the same path, in the same direction. Sometimes newborns, like Uber, skip the terrible teens to overcome the leader. Others are resurrected from the dead to become disruptive challengers, like Polaroid.
Shakespeare said it best when he professed men “have their exits and their entrances”. Brands too arrive and retire, whether they flourish, or wither, depends on the strength of their brand story.
All the market’s a stage, and all the brands are merely players.