When is a fading brand worth saving?
“there's no real reason that a brand needs to die, unless it is attached to a product that functionally doesn't work; that is, as long as a product can change to meet contemporary performance standards, your success is really dependent on how skillful you are in managing the brand's story so that it resonates with meaning that consumers like.”
John F. Sherry Jr.
Deciding whether or not to invest (or reinvest) in a declining brand can be tricky. Even in our age of robust metrics and myriad business intelligence tools, "the magic" that garners recognition and loyalty can still frustrate the ability to make a clear, analytical decision. Even brands with a dedicated, passionate following like Apple and Harley Davidson have had their brushes with irrelevance and even death. However, for all of their headline-driving histories, Apple and Harley are atypical.
The truth is that the bulk of commerce happens with brands that occupy much smaller mind share. Think of your favorite socks or brand of craft beer. What made you try them, and then continue to be a loyal customer past that first experience? Alternatively, if you moved on, what made you change? The fundamental question managers and leaders face is how do you determine whether to invest in the revitalization or not? Here are three broad areas that can help you answer it.
1. Dig deep to understand the decline.
Sometimes it's easy to peg one or two events that can change your success trajectory — a disruptive new competitor, deep-shifts in consumer preference, changing distribution channels. Increment shifts can erode brand performance just as egregiously, if less dramatically. Reliance on past best practices, under-investment in customer engagement, or value engineering that undercuts perceived quality can be brand killers. Take an inventory of changes made between peak performance and where you are now. Identify which of these could be undermining your brand's relevance and reputation. Absent dramatic external events, the totality of small changes could be the real culprits causing the decline.
2. Understand your original secret-sauce.
Clever campaigns and new product introductions are always a great shot in the arm, but for the long term, understanding why your brand's values are meaningful to your customers is critical.
In our practice, we are always looking at both small and large elements that make up brand experience (the sum of touch points and communications). Over time we've found that while innovation is fantastic, it's frequently well designed, cohesive experiences that communicate and reinforce brand values that provide a sustainable competitive advantage. Clever campaigns and new product introductions are always a great shot in the arm, but for the long term, understanding why your brand's values are meaningful to your customers is critical. Tom's Shoes is a great example of this. Tom's products aren't particularly cutting edge and haven't really changed much over time, but their "one for one" model and values connect with their customers to drive long term loyalty.
3. Define the elements of revitalization.
Now that you have a better understanding of what made you successful and what's currently limiting potential, it becomes a lot easier to identify the strategy, tactics, and investments needed to "keep or kill" a particular brand.
Revitalization may take some simple adjustments like redesigning an outdated visual identity, creating a communications platform plan that better aligns with customer values, or renewed quality assurance programs. These elements are relatively straightforward and easy to cost out, but, more fundamental organizational changes might be needed to succeed. 'Intangible Business' writes; “the main reason businesses behind successful legacy brands, die is due to management and operational incompetence”. For example, Gibson Guitars saw a dramatic revival after acquisition and change in leadership. Or more famously, Wired Magazine's cover story in 1997 featured an Apple logo with the caption 'pray'. Not long after, Steve Jobs returned to Apple and fundamentally changed its culture and course... and the rest is history.
If your venture has lost some relevance over time, chances are it can be profitably revitalized.
If your venture has lost some relevance over time, chances are it can be profitably revitalized. According to John F. Sherry Jr.; “there's no real reason that a brand needs to die, unless it is attached to a product that functionally doesn't work; that is, as long as a product can change to meet contemporary performance standards, your success is really dependent on how skillful you are in managing the brand's story so that it resonates with meaning that consumers like.”
Not sure if your brand is worth saving? Give us a shout!