How To Transform An Under-Performing Brand

Thomson DawsonFebruary 6, 20124 min

Once the decision has been made to continue to invest in an under-performing brand, brand owners will be faced with a new set of challenges completely foreign to them. The temptation is always to do more of what got you there. That rarely works when brands face reinvention. 

By that I mean brand relevance. The main reason brands begin to under perform is that people no longer care. When that happens, like it or not, you’ll be starting over from scratch. This is a hard pill for brand owners to swallow, particularly if the brand was once an iconic leader in its category.

For brand owners and managers, the process of brand reinvention begins with having an open mind. You can’t look at the issues driving your brand’s under-performance by looking at the problem through the same lens that built the earlier success. Brand reinvention requires openness to many possibilities. What got you there, won’t get you there. Brand owners must first acknowledge their organizational complacency — which is the root of an under-performing brand. Nothing breeds complacency like previous success.

Consider the fate of these iconic brands that held on to their under-performing heritage at the expense of innovating a bigger future:

Once the dominant leader in the mail order business, now an “also-ran” against big box retailers. Their relevance lost by disruptive technologies. The very principles of “mail order” that made Sears a great iconic brand, were reinvented by Amazon. The rest is history.

Once the biggest news magazine by circulation in America, now diminished by lost circulation and advertising revenue, it has finally been sold to a digitally savvy internet competitor.

No brand was more iconic and embedded into the fabric of 20th century American culture. The problem is we are now in the 21st century and the game has changed. Chevy’s current advertising manta “runs deep” is a gallant attempt to reinvent itself by looking to the past. Good luck with that one. Most people seem to be paying more attention to forward-thinking Hyundai these days.

It invented laser printing but held tightly to its dominant document company positioning while HP exploited the technology and became the industry leader.

It invented digital photography, but cemented itself into its dying film business.

And on and on the story goes. To reinvent, brand owners and managers need to accept the fact they must get better at doing everything differently. In many marketing organizations this is difficult to do, especially when they are tied to the same performance metrics the brand delivered in its hey-day. If you’re in the early stages of reinventing your brand, you’ll need to have clarity and confidence with the answers to these four questions:

To whom will you market?
It’s critical to know as much as you can about who the most fervent buyers are or will be. It’s customers that determine the competitive hierarchy of brands in a category. Everything starts with the customer. When brands reinvent themselves, chances are they’ll be serving a new and different customer segment.

Why they buy?
It’s critical to know what drivers bring the brand unquestioned relevance to the new target segment. What drives customer participation in the category, and more importantly, what drives their purchase behaviors and brand preference within the category?

What makes (or will make) your brand highly valued and difficult to substitute?
In a world of me-too products and abundant choice, the brand must represent a single emotional benefit that is highly valued by the tribe and difficult to substitute. To reinvent relevance, the brand must be the exception to its category and not the rule. Brands that stay relevant offer a simple, yet emotional benefit rather than a functional one.

How your brand competes?
Creating experiences customers love at every point in your value chain is essential. Brands that under-perform stop sharing the love. You’re not sharing the love when the product becomes stale and tired, or becomes a commodity, or your customer service takes a back seat to profit margins. Reinvention means creating new value, new meanings, rather than continuing to compete for the value nobody cares that much about.

The difficult reality for most brand managers is they live in a world of tactics and metrics. Most brand managers are hard pressed to think past 180-day cycles. Reinventing a brand is more metaphysical and there are no guarantees.

Before investing in new marketing tactics and advertising campaigns, its imperative to gain an objective and rigorous assessment of the brand’s current equities, it’s relevance to the consumer segment that represents the brand’s bigger future, and possibly to identify new opportunities for innovation and product development where the brand can once again lead a tribe.

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Thomson Dawson

One comment

  • Jason Lim

    February 11, 2012 at 12:40 am

    You mention, “When [people no longer care], like it or not, you’ll be starting over from scratch.”

    Why even stick with the irrelevant brand in the first place? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just start with a clean slate? The old brand associations can just weigh you down.

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