By Satoru Wakeshima
We’ve all seen the movie: ugly duckling struggles to fit in, until one day she takes off her glasses, gets a makeover and presto, she’s transformed into the beautiful swan she was always meant to be. She’s turning heads as she walks down the hallway, and now the cool kid is asking her to the prom (cue music).
BRANDS DON’T HAVE PROMS
But like the ugly duckling, many brands could use a transformation. Far too many brands are neglected and left to languish in a perpetual state of blah. Or even worse: their managers continue to invest time, budget and resources in a message that’s taking them down the wrong path. Before a brand can arrive at the makeover moment, they must overcome a few common pitfalls that lead to being neglected.
OH, HOW YOU’VE CHANGED
Most brands started with something unique that made them relevant: a product, a successful advertising campaign, or even a catchy jingle. But that uniqueness has a finite lifespan – brands lose relevancy over time because of changes in market dynamics, human behavior and culture. As the world changes, so must brands.
Once upon a time, Twinkies were packed in lunch boxes across America and moms had no qualms about giving their kids these fat-laden, sugary treat with enough preservatives to remain “fresh” indefinitely. Over decades, eating habits and the acceptability of such products changed, and Twinkies didn’t just become irrelevant, they became taboo. “Twinkies” have become synonymous with “bad for you”. When the public found out about the potential death of the Twinkie, the outcry wasn’t about the product; what they feared losing was the brand.
CONSUMERS NEED A REASON TO ENGAGE WITH YOUR BRAND.
In the visual equity research we do, an astounding number of consumers have difficulty discerning between the current and past expressions of the brand. If they haven’t engaged with the brand in a meaningful way recently, they default to their own memories. Whether that memory is relevant…or not.
The world is flat… and so is your category. In some instances, people have changed, but the category norms have become so established by category leaders that there’s little room for change – so all the brands say the same things in similar ways. In these situations, the brands that break the molds, succeed. They defy category norms and let go of their “equities” to create a new future.
MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO ‘ROUND
In every organization with multiple brands, there are “A list” brands that get all the attention and marketing budgets, and then there are the “B list” brands that… well, don’t. That just means the brands with smaller budgets need to work all that much harder to get noticed. But the brands that have smaller marketing budgets are usually the ones who don’t change much. The logic is “if we can’t support the change, we should stay close to what we currently have”. And that can work for a brand that’s doing well – for now. But stay the same course too long and people will simply stop noticing you.
WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO LOSE?
Maybe everything. Being radical could save your brand, and turning around steadily declining sales require radical thinking. Even if a brand’s equity once held great value, consumers want brands to have a distinct voice that speaks to them right now – a brand’s equities aren’t precious to them if they aren’t even relevant.
So herein lies the conundrum: Undergo a radical brand change and you risk losing your current core customers. Change too little and you risk becoming irrelevant.
CHANGE HAPPENS FAST
Consumer acceptance for change is greater now, more than ever, simply because the rate at which we are exposed to new things, including brands, has grown exponentially. Yes, people will continue to want their favorite brands to remain true to the image they know and love. But marketers of brands that aren’t category leaders should be more willing to take risks and make bolder changes if for no other reason than to get noticed in a growing world of brands consumers encounter every day. In most instances, the opportunities outweigh the risks.
So, if you find yourself managing a brand that’s struggling to hold onto it’s faded glory, consider the following: I encourage you to take the risk and enact radical change. Get new clothes, throw away your glasses for contact lenses and transform into a beautiful swan – because the truth is you’ve had it within you all along.
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