Corporate and personal brands alike should generate broad appeal and loyalty among key audiences and also evolve in order to withstand competitors and the test of time. But what happens when a celebrity brand, one that has been built upon a satirical persona and generated a small, yet dedicated following over a 10-year period, must quickly revamp itself to improve its market share and influence? We will soon find out, as it has been announced that Stephen Colbert will succeed David Letterman as host of “The Late Show” on CBS.
There is a tremendous amount of excitement and skepticism around this announcement. Most discussions cover the professional and reputational risks being taken by CBS and Colbert. Despite his widespread popularity among a highly engaged demographic, many are asking how successful he will be when he is “no longer cloaked in parody,” as stated by the Wall Street Journal.
However, being in the business of strategic communications, we wonder what rebranding strategies Colbert may want to employ before taking the chair in 2015 and running up against the “Jimmies” of late-night network TV.
Historically there have been equal success stories and regrettable moments that have impacted the long-term viability of well-known brands. For every Apple, which was on the brink of bankruptcy and quickly shifted gears to become a cultural icon, there is The Shack, which is what Radio Shack had hoped to become.
From a B2B standpoint, rebranding often occurs as a result of disruptive forces that trigger permanent change in various markets. We have talked about this before and work closely with our clients to develop and sustain their organizational messaging and credentialing so they can remain competitive and even take a leading industry position. Equally important is making sure your branding is consistent at all levels of the organization. Brand strategist Kevin Randall said: “Strong B2B brands are branded from the inside-out, top-down and bottom-up. Aligning the whole organization from customer-facing reps to factory floor employees with the corporate brand strategy is crucial to driving brand value and customer loyalty, especially in the B2B world.”
As for Colbert, his experiment is the latest in the generational shift in late-night network TV, which faces a disruptive force in the form of younger viewers and online followings. It is clearly part of a larger trend of networks making strategic moves to compete with one another (and appeal to advertisers).
So, how will he work to improve his market position among stiff competition? It remains to be seen, as he could lay low until the unveiling as a way of generating intrigue, or he could strategically stagger public appearances with the real Stephen Colbert as a way of introducing himself to new and broader demographics.
Given our work in the B2B space, where organizations generally prefer to balance major changes for new stakeholders with the status quo preferred by loyal customers, we would advise taking the latter approach. It may not be buzzworthy, but in the business of using branding communications to deepen relationships that drive organizational value, it better lays the groundwork for organizations seeking longevity and profitability.