Brand Activation

Oh no!  Not another wonky marketing term that sounds like made-up fluff - brand activation. Trust us, it’s not.

Of course, our opinion might be a bit subjective, but if you don’t develop a plan with an objective on what you want to achieve with the launch of your new company brand or product release, it will land with a thud.

Brand activation is the actual communication and bringing your brand platform to life. Regardless if it is a corporate or a product brand, there is a story to tell. This story needs to emotionally and rationally connect with your employees and your customers. It’s the creative execution with meaningful messages and experiences that let them know why they should care. Without a solid brand activation plan, you’ve wasted money on developing your brand platform.

A few examples

Old Spice A great example of a company rebrand is Old Spice (a P&G brand). They had been the staple of men’s deodorant for decades – it was your father’s or grandfather’s deodorant (founded in 1937). New-comers like Axe were eroding Old Spice’s market share by shaking up the market with their edgier campaigns targeting a younger audience – the future customer and where the growth would come from. In 2010 they premiered their message of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” during the Super Bowl. After it premiered, they had about 220,000 views on YouTube. Armed with insights, Old Spice redefined their brand. Their positioning, personality, and tone of voice were based on being “manly,” which in turn also inspired new ways for them to engage with their customers with new messaging and increased digital. They now have over 55 million YouTube views of their ads, along with sales that literally saved the company.


Toyota When Toyota was launching their new RAV4 Hybrid SUV, they erected a 100-foot tall rock climbing wall in Times Square. The tagline for the launch was, “How far will you take it?” They had professional rock climbers and a Toyota race car driver climb and provide demonstrations. This was done in conjunction with advertising and other communications. Brand activations often include an experiential component, but they don’t have to. Your activation plan will primarily be guided by your objective and budget. But even if you have budget constraints, it should never stop you from finding creative ways to demonstrate what your company or product stands for.


Segway Conversely, there are also brand activation fails. According to a Harvard Business Review study, brand failures often occur because of a lack of planning. Companies put so much time and effort into designing, developing or manufacturing products and services, that marketing them becomes an after-thought or it’s just too little too late. There could be minimal insights, inadequate resources, lack of creative thinking, or simply just not delivering on the brand promise. Remember Segway? This was a classic engineering driven approach that didn’t respect the importance of good insights, a marketing plan, and effective messaging. If we build it, they will come. Not so much. Twelve months prior to the product release, they stated their new vehicle would be so revolutionary, it would be the alternative to the automobile. A bold promise that failed to deliver. Ads showing riders who looked like clowns riding around on the Segways didn’t help. What could possibly have been the message they were trying to get across? The $5,000 price didn’t help either. Instead of selling 10,000 per week, they sold a total of 24,000. In five years. Wonder how many of those went to mall cops.


What To Do

An effective activation of your brand must include these items:

  • An objective. What are your trying to achieve? The more clearly you define what a successful awareness and engagement campaign looks like, the better your plan will be.

  • An activation plan. Based on your objective, but then also your budget, think through what you want your target audiences to understand and do.

  • Employee launch. Your employees and critical partners need to first understand the brand before anything is released externally. The internal team needs to understand the meaning of the brand and the important role they play in delivering on your brand promise to every customer at every touch-point. This could be and should be just as fun and engaging as your external launch. It could include a culture video, a series of events over a week or month, as well as the typical town-halls, memos and updated info on the intranet.

  • Creative and clear external launch. This is the big reveal to the public. So make it impactful. Make it memorable. But even more importantly, ensure your message is clear and your target audience understands what you stand for and how it’s different than your competitors. Effective marketing and communication tell the story as defined by your brand platform. Help your prospects and customers quickly make the connection and why it is relevant to them in your own authentic way.

  • Don’t stop. Ensure you manage your brand every day. Take time to assess if your company is living their mission statement, following the values, or consistently speaking with the right tone of voice. Filter all the decisions regarding your products or services through the brand platform. Is it delivering on the value proposition? Is it being communicated, packaged, delivered, or experienced in ways that are consistent with your brand personality and vision? Are you hiring people that align with your brand values?

Remember, your brand is not your logo (we’ll keep beating this drum over and over again). Your brand is the sum of all your customers’ experiences, through every interaction with your company or product. Your brand is not what you say - it’s what your customers say. So, if there was one singular item that was most important in activating and managing your brand, it is your people. Your employees are the ones who ultimately represent your brand through the actions they take – even if it is not customer facing. 

Oh yeah – and don’t forget to just have fun with it!