How do B2B brands get broken? (Chapter 2: Evolution)

A three-part series about B2B brand management – highlighting the symptoms, causes and cures for a broken brand.


Chapter 2: Evolution: How a shifting business strategy can break your brand – and how to fix it.

The factors that can “break” a brand typically fall into one or more of these three categories: Inattention, Evolution and Age. The previous post focused on inattention. Yet even with the best tools and resources in place, a changing business strategy can sometimes leave the corporate brand in the dust. 

At its best, brand strategy is a reflection of business strategy. But sometimes, as the organization pivots, it takes a while for the portfolio, the messaging and, thus, the customer journey to catch up.

Suddenly a device company needs to refashion itself as a SaaS company - and turning that ship takes time. Or, perhaps a formerly “niche” offering becomes the bigger opportunity for the future - and sales teams struggle to tell the “new” story while still anchored to the old. Business strategy evolves - and the brand needs to be able to grow. Here are a few tips on how to recognize these issues – and what you can do to fix them. 

Symptoms of Evolution

  • Message complexity. As sales messages, internal strategy messages and marketing communications work overtime to weave the old story to the new, a seemingly simple promise can get weighed down in complexity. 
  • Excessive sub-branding. For those groups more on the cutting edge side of the business, the “traditional” brand may not cut it anymore – so they feel the need to create some sexy new sub-brand to capture this new story. As in Chapter 1, this can establish internal precedent and, before long, lead to a rather messy product portfolio.
  • Mis-alignment. The brand is an expression of what the business strategy was 3 years ago, not reflective of the strategy today and the perceptions you need to build now for the future.

Causes due to Evolution

  • The story has become harder to tell. Whether by acquisition or organic growth, new parts of the company are now unfamiliar to a significant number of employees. People tend to gravitate to the familiar, so their version of the company may paint more a picture of yesterday than tomorrow.
  • There may be a perception (internally) that the corporate brand doesn't have market permission to extend into some of the new areas emerging in the business. Used sparingly, sub-branding can help get over this hump, but this tactic can inhibit the brand’s ability to stretch into new markets and turn skepticism of the corporate brand into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Cures for Brands Broken by Evolution

  • Find the connective tissue. The link may not be in what the company does, but there are likely other areas of commonality – a common purpose or a common approach – that can unify internal teams.
  • Measure perceptions of the brand – particularly the associations that customers (or potential customers) have with the brand. Understand where the brand falls short and undertake initiatives to boost perceptions along key attributes – with thought leadership or customer events or communications initiatives, etc.
  • There may be an opportunity to take a more aggressive approach. If this evolution is truly a watershed in the company's history, a rebranding initiative can harness the change and galvanize internal and external audiences alike. 
Next up, Chapter 3: Age: The telltale signs your brand has grown old before its time – and what to do about it. 




photo credit: Chris Barbalis, Unsplash

A version of this article was published on

Jonathan Paisner