Today, we see more and more brands resorting to tactical branding solutions to drive consumer interest and, ultimately, sales. It begs the question: Is this a healthy long-term strategy?

The tactical approach can be an extremely potent tool when applied effectively; the key objective is to formulate an immediate connection between the brand and the consumer. Tactical branding allows a brand to exist in the zeitgeist, responding to and aligning itself with current consumer lifestyle trends and motivators. Consequently, it magnifies its presence and relevance within a consumer’s world. A compelling campaign will connect new consumers to a brand they had previously been ambivalent toward.

So what actually happens when a brand resorts to a tactical approach?

Applying such a solution as a Band-Aid for struggling brands to encourage short-term consumer investment can dissolve a brand before its very own eyes. 

Unless the activity is supported by an established visual identity system that consumers are familiar with, the brand risks further disassociating itself from its loyal public through evolving inconsistent messages and a lack of consistent visuals.

Without a doubt, it is tempting for brands to take strategic short-cuts to generate immediate attention, but does it actually help? Are consumers buying into a brand because of short-term fringe benefits or motivating brand values? After the life of a flashy campaign, how many new consumer connections are maintained?

Before a brand decides whether an immediate tactical campaign is the solution to its woes, it should take a subjective look at its foundations. There are many successful brands that have evolved slowly and consistently over several decades, because they have continuously invested in core brand health. As a result of this focus, they have maintained a connection with their consumers, reinforcing core brand clarity; Coca-Cola is an obvious example. 

Creating a strong core foundation for a brand gives it the strength and freedom to operate within the tactical forum, because consumers already understand and connect with it at base level. As a result of this, they are more accepting when a brand takes them on a rollercoaster adventure that isn’t necessarily in line with their normal expectations; they have been reassured through past precedent that they will be returned home to the brand heartland, so they can enjoy the expedition into the now in the meantime.

What consumers need (although they don’t really ever analyze it themselves) is a brand that speaks to them in a language they know and understand. They need a language they can invest in emotionally and that speaks to them intuitively, resulting in an emotional relationship between brand and consumer. Once a brand has a defined consumer message, strongly defined visual equity and flexibility of architecture for ease of navigation, they find that they have strong foundations and an avid loyalty base. 

The recent introduction of Coors’ limited-edition historic can designs are a classic example of a brand building on its strengths and celebrating its expertise, showing off the excellence of its design. The cans have a simplicity that evokes the brand’s authenticity and craftsmanship. With four different designs from different points in the brand’s history, it adds a sense of fun and maintains consumer interest, encouraging fans to collect them all. 

Brands need to create an experience for potential consumers. Brand mechanics should be flexible to allow for tactical designs to exist using the master brand iconography and its values as the endorser, resulting in visual continuity and a direct link with the core brand. This will ultimately strengthen the connection between brands and consumers on both core and tactical levels. Consumers experience the dynamism of a new experience from the brand — but with reassurance.

Recently we saw Campbell’s limited-edition Warhol packs land on shelf. The can literally becomes a 3D miniature version of the original silkscreens, building on the iconography of the Warhol association and its subsequent kudos. One could argue that, as a short term solution, it’s a touch “arty” and not overtly populist — but does it have to be? I’d wager that in some markets this piece of tactical branding almost went unnoticed, but its connectivity will last longer than 15 minutes in the eyes and hearts of the intended target.