Brand as burden

Wade through marketing literature, or attend a conference, and you may well come across a statement along these lines: “You must be more than a business. You must become a brand!”

Brands garner premium pricing. A strong brand enables long-term differentiation and sustainability. Your brand will be your strongest asset.

But what about the liabilities inherent in many brands today?

An extremely well-known brand that lacks differentiation and relevance with its desired target audience is typically worse off than the upstart ascending brand.

Without question, fixing the tangible weaknesses in a broken business model can be a huge task. But it can be relatively easy compared with trying to re-program the minds of consumers.

Once it committed to a new strategy, Cadillac addressed the rationale shortcomings in its value proposition relatively quickly. But it took more than a decade–and huge marketing expenditures–before it meaningfully moved the dial with the new consumer segments it desired–and needed–to endure. Consumers had to let go of their pre-conceived negative brand associations before being open to even consider buying a Cadillac.

A case in point today is JC Penney’s radical attempt at re-invention. Penney’s is just over six months into a stated 3 year plan to transform their business model. They are aggressively rolling out new merchandise, new pricing, new advertising and a new in-store customer experience, among other needed changes. It will be 2014 before the customers they aspire to own will get a reasonably complete look at the tangible aspects of the new strategy.

But one thing is fairly certain. Many, if not most, of the consumers that Penney’s will need to win over have a well-developed–and long-standing–view of the brand, and it can be summed up simply: “it’s not for me.” Changing the rationale aspects of the shopping experience is absolutely necessary–and no small feat–but it will not be sufficient.

When your brand has become a burden the challenge of turning the ship goes far beyond fixing the cost structure and improving the features and benefits of your offering.

If you are contemplating taking on the challenge of re-inventing a legacy brand, do so very, very carefully. The retail graveyard is filled with brands that failed to appreciate how daunting the challenge is.

And if you go down the path, expect to spend more money and more time than you think.

Probably a lot more.




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