“There’s no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he’s missing a trend.”
I will admit.
This topic makes my head hurt. When older established brands & companies decide to concede everything they have earned up to this point to “re-invent” themselves with the intent to become ‘relevant again.’
To be clear on what I am talking about ….
These are products and services that have been with us for a while. They may not have grey at the temples but suffice it to say they have some history.
Clean slate brands.
Just born. Being shaped day by day <and oddly many are being initially offered to people in the market with as much ‘heritage’ type credibility crammed into it as possible with the objective of gaining some credibility that you can only shake your head>.
Before I begin on the main topic <heritage brands should embrace their heritage and quit trying to be like the young whipper snappers> I will point out that there is a very odd relationship between heritage and new <or clean slate>.
The new fresh ‘unique’ <don’t they all seem to come out from day one suggesting that no one has ever seen the likes of what they offer?> inevitably are doing one of two things:
- Injecting a core ‘history’ piece into their gestalt.
Kind of like a ‘here is one component or thing which you know and love’ just so you know it will not ….
o <a> fall apart
o <b> not work with anything else you may already own
o <c> be credible in some form or fashion
- Leveraging from some ‘history.’
Kind of like ‘I know my shit because I did this and worked here but now I have seen the light and …’
On the other hand.
Heritage brands are constantly trying to inject some false youth into their brand with the intent to suggest they are not … well … old.
Unfortunately the years suggest otherwise.
Fortunately they are just years.
Old, or age, at least with a brand … is about attitude & in the mind. Or at least it can be.
An old product is certainly just an old product.
But a constantly fine tuned contemporary old product is not old … just from an older wiser company.
I began there because I think heritage brands should take a page out of that clean slate playbook.
Far too many of the older brands are simply conceding … throwing out what they have as old <unsalvageable> … and trying to use their operational marketing savvy to reenter the market as a ‘clean slate’ brand.
Silly. Maybe even absurd thinking.
Here are a couple issues with attempting this:
- their savvy is savvy … but most likely savviness on & from a wide array of existing attributes & attitudes & perceptions. This savviness is very very different than trying to create something from scratch
- old dogs are very hesitant to learn new tricks <’nuff said on this>.
With that said.
While difficult to reimage or reenergize a heritage brand … conceding to a clean slate brand is wrong, silly and impractical.
I say this all the while watching what seems to be a massive shift in power taking place in the business world.
There is a whole new onslaught of new brands creating their own rules trying to attract people <buyers> to their unproven and unknown brands the way they were attracted to established brands in the past.
In fact it almost seems like ‘established’ is a swear word if not just another word for ‘tired & old’ if not tainted.
But the future should not, and does not, belong to these clean slate brands.
And to kick their ass you have to embrace the concept of re-imaging <not reinventing>.
The relevance in this case is about resurrecting dormant attributes in an existing company/brand that still have some appeal <just need to be dusted off and shined up a bit> and resurrecting things that are dormant in the collective consumer conscience.
Some people may call what I am discussing as re-imaging <I know I have in the past>.
And re-imaging is an appropriate term because reimaging is NOT about re-inventing an organization but rather assembling characteristics or attributes and then repackaging them, or highlighting something, to make people look at the organization <or brand> in a different way.
The simple truth is that successful re-imaging typically resides in the past.
Gathering up characteristics that made that company successful in the past and simply reminding the internal company and the external constituents all the reasons why that organization was “liked” in the first place.
Another truth is that sometimes re-imaging is simply a process of “clarity”, i.e., insuring that people clearly understand what the organization does, believes and stands for.
This may seem simplistic or irrelevant but I often find, particularly with B2B focused, organizations focus so much on customer service and features & benefits to differentiate themselves they have lost sight of the value of a higher order positioning in creating value and distinctness.
Here is the hard part to wrap your head around <to many business people today>.
This ends up being about believing that success often resides somewhere in the past.
<insert a loud DOH! Here>
This is all about something old and something new <and being relevant in the marketplace>.
Think about it.
Sales are flagging and I am an old brand/company and how do I look new?!?
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Sound familiar?
Most of the time it because the brand has simply lost relevance in consumers’ minds <it has nothing to do with being cool or uncool>.
But they can be re-imaged <and not concede to a clean slate approach>.
I do have some examples.
Maybe the best example I can think of is Adidas in the United States.
Huge popular brand in US years ago.
Dropped off the face of the earth in the American consciousness <especially as Nike and Reebok stepped up>.
Then someone stepped in and made them relevant again <part old school positioning and part ‘new relevant’ status>.
Did the same.
And maybe the second best example.
Someone really stepped up to the plate on this one. Someone fought the battle that “big blue ain’t that bad that we should throw it under the bus” <and I bet that was a tough discussion> and then threw in some nice human characteristics <some tongue in cheek relevant humor> and all of a sudden IBM <which had one foot in the grave perceptionwise> became relevant all over again.
They didn’t throw away all their old characteristics <in fact they kind of suggested that an aspect of their oldness was good> and simply started adding on relevant “todaylike” characteristics.
But please note.
The list of failed ‘re-imaging’ initiatives is extensive.
Resurrecting, or renovating, a brand to revitalize it in the marketplace and make it relevant again is a tricky path.
It isn’t easy.
Because it is just easy to look old.
Or worse … look old trying to be cool <think the middle aged crisis guy who is almost laughably sad to look at>.
I am not sure if business people are lazy, scared or simply dazzled by the newest shiniest object.
I do know for sure that I often find that people spend so much time trying to find something ‘new and revolutionary’ and they overlook something older that just needs to be pulled off the shelf and shined up a bit.
Whatever the reason for the brand fading away or disappearing or losing its relevance <blame mergers, globalization, mismanagement, stagnant thinking, poor strategic repositioning, or whatever> not conceding to clean slate brands should be the main path forward <or at least the first path considered>.
Imagine the gazillions you could save by not having to create instant name recognition amongst tens of millions of skeptical twenty, thirty or forty-somethings.
Imagine not having to play an entire season of ‘away games’ where you are constantly walking onto their field with their rules.
In the end re-imaging doesn’t mean new perceptions cannot be ‘attached’ to existing attributes it simply means that it is:
(1) Easier if the desired image/identity is leveraged from something existing (think heritage again), and
(2) More believable to internal & external audiences if as many existing perceptions/attitudes are utilized as possible (so old is good here too).
And to be clear.
It takes a disciplined process <or let’s say it helps a lot> which effectively recognizes and identifies dormant-like meaningful characteristics.
And it also takes people who are in tune to uncovering insights using the ‘resurrected’ factoid findings <because many people just focus on the new shiny objects>.
And, lastly, success is dependent upon knowing how to use those insights to make the brand relevant and increase sales.
Candidly …. not everyone in business has or can do all three of these things I just outlined.
This whole thought process, and practical process, is not really that easy <or maybe better said it is easy to do this badly>.
Not many can meet the challenge to resurrect something old with reverence and apply it with relevance.
Three thoughts to end this article.
It is all about pushing off from some past strength and leaping forward in a relevant way.
Anyone who doesn’t want to looks backwards at all <the infamous “that information is dated” comment> will not understand or benefit from this approach.
I believe companies with some heritage and strong values provide a strong platform for success.
Some people consider being old as having baggage, I do not; I believe that represents a competitive advantage.
2. I love reimaging.
I love this strategic approach.
It’s like putting a puzzle together using a lot of existing pieces but at the end having it look slightly different than it did when it was put together previously. It is simply showing people what was already there but helping them look at it differently. Plus (frankly). It is always easier to edit then create.
Reimaging is all about identifying meaningful distinctive existing characteristics & attributes with the intent to develop a relevant positioning which creates a desirable image to some specific target audience.
If you concede the wisdom ground as a heritage brand you will lose.
Maybe you are just lost.
If you are a heritage brand … do NOT concede ground to clean slate brands.
Do not play their game.
And if you do it right?
It’s fun <from a business perspective>.
It is REALLY fun.
And it can create some amazing sales results.