Part of the fun in building brands is that while one half of your mind plumbs the nuanced depths of brand context, the other half peers three years out to leverage that context into new business opportunities. Welcome to “brand space,” where it’s microscope to one eye, telescope to the other.
Brand space is the realm of new business
As a brand builder, “brand space” is one of your most useful concepts. It encompasses all the territories where your brand intends a presence. Consider it your brand turf. Much of your brand space is forward focused. It contains the brand elements that will rise to the surface and nurture your business when your company launches new products and services. In fact, you will always be priming some part of your brand space for emerging markets.
There is a cardinal rule of brand space: use it, or lose it.
Let’s look more closely at brand space, and then examine an example of brand space that’s unfolding in real time.
Brand space defined
I define brand space as “an emergent customer context in which the brand takes a leadership role.” Your brand space is the potential value domain of your brand: where your brand plans to go. It’s your brand’s extended realm, or some aspect of its “manifest destiny.” Your brand space is typically far larger than the served space of your current, “operational” brand. It projects the customer and the brand forward, toward the next (higher) brand platform that’s on your brand roadmap. (And you do have one of these, right?)
A brand that’s well crafted will command a set of strategically related brand spaces that foreshadow where the customer is headed. Ideally, the brand moves the customer forward into those brand spaces essential for customer growth, and for the growth of the business. This is one reason why brand teams are also product development teams. Brand spaces assume a strong product/brand integration.
It’s important that the brand space is a “value context.” By that I mean it intends to deliver a new form of brand value for the customers to be created. Areas where you deploy brand spaces may have no current customers (virgin markets) or may have existing customers served by ho-hum brands. Your brand space needs to offer a new protocol of pleasure, protocol of performance, or protocol of whatever that will redefine customers out of the bog-like context that’s currently holding them back.
And, as shown above, the ascendant architecture of your brand platforms will dictate where your brand spaces will become fertile fields. Brand spaces are the bow waves of brand platforms.
Brand space and competitive advantage
If you want to beat competitors to the punch, it pays to use your brand space to enter nascent markets at the earliest opportunity. While your competitors are building out their feature lists, you can be delivering the pre-product experiences that align customers to your brand months before actual product introduction. This is not about hype or “making promises.” It’s about knowing what freedoms your customers crave, what freedoms your offerings will deliver, and giving customers a measured taste up front.
Brand space example: WiFi-enabled handsets
Tom Evslin has a fascinating post on dramatic changes coming to the mobile phone market. In a few years mobile phones will be WiFi enabled, meaning they can connect to the Internet wherever there’s a WiFi signal. That means, of course, that those WiFi phone calls will then be VoIP, and possibly, or probably, free. As you can imagine, and as Tom details, this threatens a major disruption of the telco carriers who now control things via their cell networks. One of the ripple effects is our brand space example. To quote Tom:
WiFi support in mobile phones will shift the balance of power from the big wireless operators to the cellphone hardware and software makers. Phones will be purchased independently of calling plans just as computers are purchased independent of Internet connectivity arrangements. Coupons for access may be included with phones instead of phones being included with calling plans. Why? Because voice calling will be too cheap to meter and hardware will still cost something. [my emphasis]
This amounts to a HUGE market shift. If you’re a maker of electronic devices and software whose products have personal communication potential, this change signals the potential opening of lucrative markets previously held captive by the major carriers. Perhaps there’s a future for you in the handset business, if you can leverage existing brand strengths in portable electronic devices, WiFi, design, and computer/Internet interoperability. If you’ve been on your toes, your brand space beneath this potential market will be jumping. It will already include a rich mobile communication context that can fit hand-in-glove with a WiFi-enabled handset. Your brand space is your running start, a latent brand context ready to be activated. If/when you launch that phone, customers will be standing by. The new market will appear to be naturally yours from the get-go.
I, of course, am no one to foment rumors.