Reviving Brand in Decline, Fading, Failing, Dying, or Dead: Reinvention to Rescue…

Businesses are reviving dormant brands to minimize risk and exploit consumers’ love of nostalgia… a growing trend. ~ Patrick McDermott

Frequently the statement; the ‘brand’ is a company’s most valuable asset is a marketing executive’s justification for the investment of additional resources to grow and support the ‘brand’. According to Jonathan Knowles the phrase is insightful when ‘brand’ is used to mean ‘perceived uniqueness in the minds of customers’ and not simply about reputation.

This was the meaning that John Stuart, chairman of Quaker, had in mind when he made his famous remark that; ‘if this company was split-up, I would give you the land and bricks and mortar, and I would take the brands and trade marks, and I would fare better than you.’

The industries in which ‘perceived uniqueness in the minds of customers’ is truly the most important asset of the business are ‘consumer’ industries (e.g., alcohol, cars, electronics, entertainment, fashion, retail…) in which brands are a form of self-expression for consumers; or ‘distress purchase’ industries (e.g., insurance, financial services, medical products, certain technology products…) in which consumer preference is driven by loss-aversion.

If your company deliver the right brand experience consistently, and customers and prospects find that appealing, then the brand will grow and prosper… However, if the brand has no heart, no soul and no personality, then that attitude will position the brand as; bland, feeble, and more vulnerable to pricing pressure, customer churn, and declining margins. The brand is what the company is; nothing more, nothing less. Brands aren’t built with tools, techniques, slogans, sayings, light-up buttons…

Brands are built through the development of value propositions that are exchanged between buyers and sellers, between people and organizations, and if people who deliver the brand experience aren’t sold on the brand and don’t live the brand, then they should not expect it from the customer.  According to Jonathan Knowles; the key ingredients in branding are:

  • Brand must be based on solid business model and sound business proposition.
  • Brand must differentiate itself from competition with a meaningful value proposition. Slogans and jingles are fine, but, they generally won’t pay the rent.
  • Brand must deliver what is truly important to customers and doesn’t run counter to common sense.

In the article Revitalizing, Rejuvenating and Reformulating a Struggling Brand” by Ted Mininni writes: When should companies allow declining brands to quietly finish life cycles, and conversely, when should they opt to revitalize them? Many experienced marketing executives and brand managers feel that brands follow irrevocable life stages, e.g., they are born, mature, plateau and eventually begin to decline and die.

Companies with brands that are in the declining phase, generally, employ the strategy of best business practice, i.e., cutting advertising and marketing investment on these brands and reallocate the dollars to other growth brands. Some companies choose to sell-off weak brands or price discount them to wring-out whatever value is left. While other companies are interested in revitalizing their diminishing brands, which is currently a growing trend.

However, the important question remains; how can companies determine whether to invest in the revitalization of brands or not? Sometimes revitalization requires the re-branding of a company from top-down and that can include; a refurbishment of the logo, trademark and trade-dress to revamp entire corporate brand image. Sometimes it’s an updating of the brand’s products and specific product attributes with better and demanded features. Also, revitalization can require a repackaging for a fresher, more contemporary brand-look for appeal to new generations of consumers.

Bottom line: Revitalizing a corporate brand, when consumer research signals the time is right or sales have either come to a plateau or begun to slump is essential component of ongoing brand management. Revitalizing a brand contemporizes and gives it new life to what could have been perceived as a tired, aging product line…

In the article “How to Revive a Shaken Brand” by Karen Post’s article writes: How will you pick up the pieces once your brand’s foundation has been shaken by a brand crisis? For example, a legal issue, natural disaster, sudden market shift or troubled product– these types of issues can test any brand’s stamina.

But with careful navigation and rethinking, you can bounce back. When a brand faces a big blunder, their world starts crumbling and it seems like there is no way out. Moving forward after a crisis is no easy task, but with the right plan and timely actions, you can regain your brand power even through the toughest situations. There are ‘game changers’– key concepts that transform a brand from bad to back-on-top.

One of these ‘game changers’ is to keep improving; and that takes a commitment to change and the ability to rethink current ways. That requires meaningful rethinking, recycling, focus on scalable improvements, and the willingness to kill traditions. With the right level of adjustment and innovation, you’ll have your brand back on track, quickly…

In the article “Dead Brands Come Back to Life” by Richard Bergovoy writes:  Once popular but abandoned brands are being rescued from obsolescence and used as branding for other products; at no charge (free) and it’s perfectly legal. For example; Wal-Mart sells ‘White Cloud’ toilet paper, CVS sells ‘Nuprin’ analgesics… and, due to residual goodwill of these abandoned brands, both companies sell these rebranded products at a higher price point than generic options.

Yet, neither pay a license fee to the original brand owners. How is that possible? Normally, a company would be sued for trademark infringement, if it used a branding without the owner’s permission. But a trademark is a use-it-or-lose-it legal right. The federal ‘Lanham Act’ says, ‘that if a trademark is not used in commerce to identify goods or services for three years, it is presumed abandoned’. Then it becomes available to anyone; first come, first served. 

However, the three-year period is just a presumption; if the original owner can show that it had no intent to abandon the mark then it retains ownership. For example, the brand owner might be doing behind-scene product development, so a would-be trademark recycler must proceed with caution.

How can one find abandoned brands to recycle? First, a little old-fashioned research: Check promising candidates against the online federal trademark register, and also there are brand licensing agencies that specialize in securing and licensing abandoned brands…

In the article “Can a Dead Brand Live Again?” by Rob Walker  writes: Marketers like to talk about something called ‘brand equity’, a combination of familiarity and positive associations, which clearly has some value, even if it’s impossible to measure it in a convincing empirical way. Exploiting the equity of dead or dying brands– sometimes called ‘ghost brands’, ‘orphan brands’ or ‘zombie brands’–  is a topic many consumer-products firms, large and small, have wrestled with for years.  

Whether these brand-reanimation efforts pan-out as a successful business strategy is problematic; however, they do offer an unusual perspective on the relationship between brands and brain. By and large, examinations of successful brands tend to focus on names like; Harley-Davidson, Apple, Converse… which have developed ‘cult’ followings, however, such cases are misleading, because they are not typical of most of what we buy.

A great deal of what happens in the consumer marketplace does not involve brands with zealous loyalists. What determines whether a brand lives or dies (or, can even come back to life) is usually a quieter process that has more to do with mental shortcuts, assumptions, and memories– and all the imperfections that come along with each of those things.  It’s often hard to pin-down the exact moment a brand disappears, because a product can linger on shelves for quite a while before its sold-down or otherwise liquidated.

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.’

Brands fail, lose favor, fade from memory, and suffer a decline in effectiveness and value, and this happens for a number of reasons. For example: The brand may no longer represent product qualities or corporate values that are important to customers; poor management may have damaged the performance of the company or products;  stronger competitors many have overtaken the brand in terms of its consumer recognition or market share…

Strategies to revive a brand take a number of forms, such as; redesign the visual elements of the brand, increase brand communication, restructure the company to improve performance.

In the article ‘Brand is Forever! Framework for Revitalizing Declining & Dead Brands’ by Sunil Thomas & Chiranjeev Kohli write: Over years, brands have met untimely deaths, such as; Oldsmobile, Pan Am, Woolworth… Many more have steadily declined into oblivion, while others have been revived. When a brand dies, significant investments that were made to build the brand are lost. Unfortunately, even the strongest brands with high net-worth are not immune from brand decline and subsequent death. In today’s market, where new product introductions are expensive and risky, it may be worthwhile to evaluate brands that are declining and invest in revitalizing them.

An article ‘How to Reinvigorate Old Brands’ in ‘Forbes Magazine’ says: Reinvigorating a brand may require a few simple adjustment, or much more drastic changes, for example; redesign the logo and other visual elements that are outdated; development program that better aligns the brand with market requirements; communication plan to increase exposure of the brand; fundamental organization change that impacts the brand…

‘Intangible Business’ writes; ‘the main reason businesses, behind successful legacy brands, die is due to management & operational incompetence’.  Example: Gibson  Guitars, where a change of management saw a dramatic revival in brand strength following a period of neglect by previous owners. Another, Apple Computer was practically dead, back in 1997: ‘Wired Magazine’ ran a cover story about Apple with the caption ‘pray’.

In a world that Apple had helped to create, it was becoming irrelevant. But then strange things happened a wildly popular creative maverick was brought back– Steve Jobs. He had offended as many as he inspired but his presence ensured that nobody remained indifferent, let alone bored. He turned the fortunes of the company round, big time. Lesson to be learned: Reviving a brand can work…

The strength of a dormant brand is you can remake it, however you want; and the challenge is you can remake it, however you want. ~Paul Earle