Fixing a Broken Brand
May 23, 2008
One of the steps in branding is understanding the reality of the situation. Frequently, this is just removing the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. We call this the “RQ” or “Reality Quotient”. However, sometimes the reality is that a brand is broken. It could be a bad reputation. It could be outdated products or services. It could be low employee morale. Or it could be that some unintended disaster happens.
The initial reactions from corporate marketers is to use advertising to “fix” a brand. This may work in some cases, but advertising will draw extra attention to a brand that simply doesn’t need more time in the harsh light. Creating more customers to experience a brand that is broken just makes the situation worse. Example: When Bridgestone/Firestone had the issue with tires on Ford Explorers, the used advertising to try to reassure a nervous public. The results - a further drop in sales. If you have truly fixed your brand, then advertising can be a medium to tell your new story.
So how do you fix a broken brand?
- Deal with reality. As mentioned above, this could be a lot of different things. That said, we believe that the most common ailment of a brand is that it simply doesn’t have a core - or has drifted far away from its original simple idea. Either way, a company needs to determine and define why it exists; “soul searching” just like a person does. Another aspect of reality is more tangible. Brands and business models out of alignment with market conditions are likely to fail. In other words, these brands have lost their relevance. Think typewriter manufacturers.
- Start internally. Tens of thousands of business people have read Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” - many of them work for or own broken or damaged brands. The first principle in this great book is one of the solutions to fixing a broken brand. This principle is “the right people”. Once you understand the reality of your situation, you have to get the Right People. This starts by getting rid of the wrong people. People who don’t think there is a problem; don’t want to change; don’t believe. The Right People will work hard, provide ideas, recruit others - and most of all, convince friends that your brand has truly changed.
- Re-build your customer base. This really is the same as getting the Right People. Like the above, this often means “firing” some customers. However, the majority of this step is going out and aligning your brand with customers who have the same brand core that you do. This is essentially the same step of creating customer evangelists that was so perfectly articulated by Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell in their book of the same name. This concept isn’t just for interesting or innovative brands. It is how broken brands heal themselves.
Assuming that all 3 of the above steps (not just one or two) are successfully implemented, the next step is to tell truthful and transparent stories from you, your employees, and most critically, your customers. These stories can be told through PR, advertising, or direct through your web-site and social networking (both your company’s and your employee’s). Further, make sure that new customers have a way to tell stories about their experience. This will have the single biggest impact on changing perception in the marketplace.
What are some real life examples of brands that recovered from being “broken”. We posed this question on LinkedIn and got some excellent and insightful responses:
Black and Decker. Company was getting killed by the competition but still had good quality products. They owned the Dewalt tool name and used it as a way to revive the company. Michael Ptasienski
Coke - recovered after issues with New Coke introduction; Apple was turned around after Steve Jobs returned. Ford recovered after the Edsel, however the U.S. auto industry has had a tough time dealing with overseas competitors. Harley Davidson is another one. Rai Chowdhary.
Apple Computers is an excellent example. They were becoming irrelevant in the personal computer market. The iPod and iTunes products made them a relevant brand again. Combine that with their “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” and their PC market share has made a come back as well. Leexan Hong.
Add Samsung as a company that went from nowhere with shoddy product to very strong prominence and awareness and top market share from the mid nineties to the current day. Gerry Corbett
Marks and Spencer were in the doldrums a few years back but reinvented themselves successfully. Simon Shah
I would add Kodak to this list for recent great brand turnarounds. Rick Sauter
Skoda is such a great example! If you’re looking for an example of brand that recovered from a disaster, then isn’t Johnson & Johnson tylenol tragedy a casebook example. I seem to remember it popping up again and again in my PR studies!!! Another example from the UK might also be Marks and Spencer. They were in all kinds of trouble a while ago but seemed to have turned themselves around, particularly with strong marketing campaigns for their clothes and food ranges (badged “M&S”) and opening a range of smaller convenience food stores located in clever places like petrol and service stations, train stations, etc. I would also perhaps add Nintendo to that list. Great example of changing their business model by going after new kinds of customers with the launch of the Wii and DS - not just turned their own brand around, but is also challenging the rest of the games industry. Tracy Playle
Skoda - Czech car manufacturer - one of the most remarkable turn around - from car with legendary jokes to most wanted car in UK. Kresimir Macan