Your brand, if it has any depth or breadth at all, can be seen as an ecosystem of sorts–an inter-related set of processes, relationships and perceptions that ultimately determine its relevance and health.
When you don’t see your brand as an ecosystem, and neglect to accept how you must co-evolve with your customers while fighting off hostile organisms, you miss emerging problems and nascent opportunities.
Witness Sears. When I joined in 1991, major appliances and home improvement products were king, defining the brand for most consumers and contributing an overwhelming majority of profits. Until Home Depot and Lowe’s emerged as major competitors the ecosystem we played in was a relatively straightforward one. Your appliance breaks, you get a new one. You need to hammer a nail, tighten a screw, cut some wood, we had the Craftsman tool for you.
Of course, the customer was always solution focused: as the old adage goes, you don’t buy a drill because you really want a drill, but because you really want a hole. When new brands emerged to address a broader set of needs, consumer wants became articulated as home solutions–kitchen remodel, new home construction, DIY projects and the like. The Sears (and Kenmore and Craftsman) brand needed to evolve as well. But didn’t.
During the nineties we worked hard to improve within our narrowly defined ecosystem (existing product focus, mall-based distribution), rather than see how the ecosystem was evolving. If we had truly understood and accepted the evolution of the ecosystem we had dominated for years, it would have been clear that we HAD to be in the home improvement warehouse business.
You know how this has played out. The fundamentally stronger organisms began to win out. Sears’ failure to participate meaningfully in the evolved ecosystem has doomed them to mediocrity at best; eventual demise in the most likely scenario.
Sears is just one high-profile case, but there are many other brands that have become extinct or largely irrelevant by neglecting to truly understand the ecosystem in which they live. Or die.