I just finished reading an article in Ad Age about the success Target has had in innovating and redefining its brand message during the recession, and the results that have come from it. I agree that Target has made some very strong moves recently, but the article doesn't give the whole story. The fact is that for a majority of the recession, Target struggled as consumers defected to Walmart, and other consumers skipped the Target strata and went straight from major department stores down to the Walmart level.
Target has ultimately done a great job in adjusting without sacrificing their unique position in the market, and they're now very well positioned for the "recovering" consumer, but it took a year and a half to do it. For most of that time its message was basically out of step with changes in its customers' needs and priorities. It's like having a dance partner who keeps doing the same steps at the same pace even though the music has changed completely.
So, when was the last time YOU updated your customer profile? Have you taken the time to talk with them and validate a lot of the assumptions that guide your brand messaging? Can you quantify and qualify how their lives and circumstances have changed over the past 12 months? In short, are they still who they were when you started out together?
The important lesson here is that you have to stay in tune with your customers. You have to strive to really understand them on an ongoing basis. That way you can make small adjustments and stay on their path, rather than pulling apart in different directions. Its not enough to develop a customer profile then laminate it and not revise it for years. The customer (just like the world they live in) is a dynamic entity, constantly evolving. Modern brands have to be just as dynamic, with an understanding that the customer does most of the leading. If you're a good partner, that dance can last all night.