4 Ways To Address Brand Decline

Mark Di SommaJune 29, 20154 min

Outside-in change is prompted by shifts beyond the immediate control of the brand. Those prompts could be competitive, reputational or sectoral.

They could manifest in symptoms as varied as a drop in credibility, a slump in market share or a shift in profitability within a sector as a whole. Whatever the signal, these declines prompt a brand to make sometimes radical changes in a quest to re-set how it is valued by consumers and respected by rivals.

One or more of four outs usually apply:

  • You have been outpaced – you’re not keeping with up the changes in consumer buying patterns, expectations and/or attitudes. You need to shorten your reaction and/or development times or risk being left behind.
  • You have been outsmarted – your competitors have done something clever – an innovation or an improvement – that has completely changed how they compete. Consumers have welcomed the change. Now you must react.
  • You have been outshone – someone else has stolen the eye of buyers, and they’ve shifted their attention and their wallets. Chances are your profile and/or your story, or rather the lack of them, are to blame. You need to find new ways to be interesting or risk further relegation.
  • You have outraged – you did something stupid or failed to do something right, and now people are not happy with you. You need to do two things simultaneously: arrest the public damage; and address the internal controls that allowed whatever happened to happen.

In any of these circumstances, the brand is primarily looking for ways to stem losses and then to regroup and counter-attack. Both steps are important.

It’s critical to understand how you got into the position you are in. The overarching question is brutally direct, but critically important: “Why and where have we failed?” Management generally squirm at history lessons I’ve found – afraid they’ll turn into a witch-hunt – but unless the reasons for your decline are known and the pace of decline understood, it’s very difficult to know what to address in the marketplace and the speed at which that change must occur. If you don’t know, you will find yourselves simply throwing tactics at your competitors in increasingly desperate attempts to slow the damage.

Sometimes, just ceasing the behaviors that have been damaging your brand will make a big difference. One thing’s for certain – you can’t begin to direct a new future until and unless you have addressed what’s wrong right now.

Critical to getting the counter-attack right is a very clear assessment of what the new “right” should look like. Unless a brand sets clear goals for its reactions, it is in danger of reacting almost for the sake of it, or seeking to get back to a psychological state of normalcy that still may not be competitive. As Thomson Dawson points out, the focus should be on establishing a redefined level of value.

If you have been outpaced, you probably need to extensively review and rethink your ‘go-to-market’. Alongside all the operational implications of that are key brand positioning questions such as: “Where is our next market? How do we get there (faster)? And what do we get there with – in order to do so at the speed required?”

If you have been outsmarted, alongside a review of your strategy and your new product development, you probably need to be asking, “What sort of competencies do we need in our brand team that we don’t have (enough of) right now?, What response will we deliver to what our competitors have done? And how can we change how we work to outsmart our competitors going forward?”

If you have been outshone, there’s a clear need to look at your messaging and the delivery of your communications. Maybe your value proposition is not distinctive enough. Maybe you have missed key motivations. Maybe you’ve just been too conservative in your approach. Key questions to be asking, “How should we change our story? What idea can we champion? Who do we work with, and how do we do so, to bring our messages to life in fantastic ways.”

If you have outraged, there’s three questions that should be front of mind, “Where’s the road back, where does it lead to and who will lead us down that road?”

The key objective of outside-in change is to re-assert the position of the brand in the marketplace by markedly moving current or emerging perceptions. In the words of Jim Stengel, you are looking to “get the outside world to have a different conversation” about you. But that can’t happen through conversation alone. As Dawson observes, perceptions change through different experiences not through new communications. And that’s where the “in” part of outside-in matters: “You can’t begin the journey of changing outside perceptions without internal clarity, confidence and consensus on what defines your brand’s value proposition and why it will continue [to matter] to people.”

In a future post on Branding Strategy Insider, I’ll look at the dynamics of inside-out prompts, why they are different, how they are best managed and where they can potentially lead.

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