This Is How a Brand Loses Its Luster

This Is How a Brand Loses Its Luster
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Author, Strategic Advisor, Consultant, and Business Coach
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In his book No B.S. Guide to Brand-Building by Direct Response, business coach and consultant Dan S. Kennedy offers a no-holds-barred plan to creating and profiting from a powerful brand. In this edited excerpt, the author reveals what two things can you're your brand lose it's appeal with customers and how to keep it interesting.

Brand is absolutely no assurance of success or longevity, nor insurance against sloth or stupidity. Brand as protective armor for the business battlefield is illusion. Legacy brands certainly exist and some thrive. Dating way back but still alive and valuable today, Dale Carnegie comes to mind. In the very busy diet industry where fads come and go and few survive as brands, Weight Watchers is still alive and kicking. Then there's Tupperware, Disney and The Rolling Stones, who are still on tour.

But these are more notable exceptions than rule. If you create or come into possession of a valuable brand, you must then sleep with one eye open forevermore. A growing number of barbarians gather at your gates, surround your fortress walls--barbarians because they lack respect for their elders, they're rude and brash and coarse and bold, they do not fear, and they will kill you and eat you and leave only bones behind without a twinge of remorse. Most brand owners who are destroyed first sow the seeds of their own destruction and create their own vulnerability. In many cases, they deserve to die.

Brands lose their luster and power many different ways:

1. Poor, worsening product quality and/or customer service and a level of "Don't bother me" arrogance about it does in a lot of big brands. Just look at Holiday Inns and Howard Johnson's. It's what opened the door for the Japanese invasion of the auto industry in America. If you're under age 50, it's probably hard to imagine that people hated, reviled and shunned the person in their neighborhood who dared to buy a Japanese car. These cars got keyed and vandalized in parking lots. And Japanese cars were widely viewed as pure crap. Now it seems no company can make cars. Rarely does a week go by without some company—from Ford to Hyundai—announcing a recall of 50,000 to 500,000 of their cars suffering some sort of defect. Cadillac and Lincoln once owned the aspirational buyer--they were the symbols of upward mobility and success in America. Producing defective and dysfunctional products, delivering poor service, serving up gruel and telling customers to eat it and like it creates great vulnerability. And no brand can long protect itself from such bad behavior.

2. Failure to be interesting puts brands at risk. Way back in the 1950s, the folks running Proctor & Gamble realized that no matter how perfectly their flagship laundry detergent, Tide, performed, housewives simply got bored with it and bought other brands. Some returned periodically to Tide; some were lost forever. It created a strategy, still used today, of making some minor "new and improved" tweak to Tide every 60 to 120 days—adding a scent, taking out all scent, adding fabric softener, changing the bottle, changing the cap and so on. It also created a number of different versions of Tide, so a consumer can move about within the brand's product line.

The company also created Tide in different bottles with different names to compete with themselves and still get the bored and wayward consumer's money. Surf, as example--an unimaginative substitute name for Tide but one that sold well nonetheless. The fast-food chains each have their basic, fundamental menus, but just about all of them have borrowed Disney's strategy of limited release, then back in the vault, then periodically re-release a food item for a brief time, then take it away—McDonalds' McRib Sandwich is a good example.

One of the three most important marketing questions in business is: What's new?There's little curiosity about what's the same as the last time the consumer visited, heard about or read about a business. Un-curious, bored customers cannot long be held by a leash braided from brand.

A brand business can do a lot to keep itself interesting without real, groundbreaking innovation. Innovation carries risk, because it can take you away from what customers like best or trust most, but even with those risks, it's hard to avoid it entirely over a long term and still thrive.

A lack of legitimate innovation leaves the best of brands vulnerable. All the pizza brands left themselves vulnerable to upstart Dominos because none of the established companies bothered with any solutions to the slow and unreliable delivery of cold pizza. Kodak, one of the most iconic of American brands, became virtually worthless by ignoring the digital revolution in photography. 

A brand can even become too well known. To a degree, Weight Watchers has long suffered from this. People widely credit it as the only diet program that actually works, but they also feel they know what it's about, how it works and, unfortunately, that it's difficult.

Many people erroneously think of brand-building as a sprint to a finish line of brand-achievement. The very idea that arrival counts for little and they must still and forever get out of bed every morning paranoid and hard at work at newly fascinating those now familiar with them seems obscenely unjust. As unhappy as these people are when they confront this nasty reality, they're even more unhappy when all they believe they've built so solidly dissolves like a sand castle at the first high tide. Fascination is not an accomplishment; it's a mandate.

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