I regularly refer to adrenalin as the chemical of change. To me, transformation must be radical and scary, because it pretty much requires the same levels of energy and momentum to get to a ‘dangerous’ place as it does to shift to somewhere a lot more comfortable. The only difference may be the time it may take for people internally to get comfortable again.
That’s particularly true if you’re a brand that has fallen behind – where the shift required to even stay alive can feel huge. And yet for all the effort, the concern, the misgivings, where your brand lands can in reality be right in the middle of the pack – meaning that sooner rather than later, the company will need to repeat the same process in order to avoid being lost.
So often, it seems, those undertaking brand change misjudge impact. People assess what has happened from the point of view of how far they have shifted rather than looking at the two things that really matter: the active difference it has made for consumers; and where the brand now lies in relative competitiveness and interest to those in the market today and those on the verge of entering.
It’s not just brands that need to catch up that face this dilemma. Even brands that lead their fields and are widely perceived as shapeshifters can agonize over decisions that, to consumers, are perfectly sensible once they do appear. I remember having this discussion one day in an airport with the Creative Director of a global clothing brand I know well. Pointing to the new imagery on the posters in the display window, I commented that I liked the way they had extended the brand a little.
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.