Magazine article Marketing


Magazine article Marketing


Article excerpt

The worst fate that can befall a brand is that it becomes irrelevant to consumers. The key for marketers is to spot the slide early and take clear steps to arrest it.

What's the worst thing you can say about a brand? That it is hated? That it has been tainted by corruption? That it makes people feel guilty for using it? Or simply, perhaps, that it is just another bland, me-too offer in a chronically oversupplied world?

These aren't nice problems for a chief marketing officer to wake up to every morning, but neither are they terminal.

Brand hatred? That hasn't stopped the big four UK banks holding market share since the financial crisis, despite switching being made simpler Corruption? From the same pool, look no further than HSBC, which shrugged off its drug-money-laundering offences to declare pre-tax profits of dollars 20.6bn in 2012. Consumer guilt issues? Amazon's tax-avoidance may pit people's desire against their conscience, but it's desire that tends to win out.

As for all those me-too mediocrities out there, too many are quietly earning a crust to make this the most damning judgement. Dorothy Perkins, Coffee Republic, Ragu, Best Western, Continental and Yahoo! are just a few that come to mind - though admittedly, given their blandness, not without some effort.

No: the worst thing you can say about a brand is that it has become irrelevant. This is the silent, passionless fate that every marketer should fear. To lose relevance is to be holed below the waterline.

You can set your big communications guns blazing and call all corporate hands on deck, but those efforts won't stop your beautiful brand ship sliding under a sea of indifference.

What saddens most is the realisation that all the love and goodwill the brand has built up over the years abruptly counts for nothing. Kodak is the most poignant example of that. It filled a big happy space in people's brand consciousness for more than a century, defining a category that was one of the joyful bits of life.

Too bad the category itself went walkabout, when digital imaging became the everyday way to track memories. Kodak filed for Chapter 11 in 2012, and has only recently emerged from insolvency to fight again, a fragment of its earlier size.

Despite this fundamental significance, brand relevance is rarely the first item on a marketing agenda.

It tends to be seen as basics, table-stakes, a hygiene factor taken for granted. And surely, if you have a brand to work on, one that customers are still buying, then by definition it must be relevant to their lives.

Perhaps. You have to take a pause, though, when so canny a marketer as Howard Schultz puts relevance at the top of the agenda for Starbucks' immediate future. Here's what focused his mind: a 14.6% plunge in US shopper footfall in the last two months of 2013.

For Schultz, this was not merely an anomaly but 'a seismic shift in consumer behaviour' - the ecommerce trend gaining pace. That could render Starbucks' comfy presence in malls and Main Streets a costly irrelevance: there's not much point in the 'third place' if people aren't leaving their homes in the first place.

Here is a brand that has fought the hot passions of activists, environmentalists and window-smashing haters of capitalism. Yet you get the sense from the rhetoric that Schultz sees those as lower-grade threats than the insidious mutation of consumer habits and behaviours. …

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