Branded or Brand-Dead

It's terrible what happens to some brands.
They get abused, diluted, usurped, mismanaged and misused. They get applied to unrelated products or services. They get milked for whatever they are worth on needless line extensions. But brands are pretty durable. A good brand, one that was managed well once can be revived successfully and profitably.

It’s terrible what happens to some brands.

They get abused, diluted, usurped, mismanaged and misused. They get applied to unrelated products or services. They get milked for whatever they are worth on needless line extensions. But brands are pretty durable. A good brand, one that was managed well once can be revived successfully and profitably.

Why should anyone be interested in resuscitating a dormant or near-dead brand, why should a brand be brought back as a Lazarus from the grave? For one reason, it’s an unutilized asset. Launching a new brand is expensive, risky and time consuming. Resuscitating a brand with a track record, historical equities and a once prominent constituency can be far more effective.

The most common reason brands come close to death is they are simply forgotten. Change in management, change in corporate direction, historical decline of the business, new technologies or patents, or competitors with a stronger will can all make the original brand less relevant.

Sometimes the brand has taken a new form with updated imagery, fonts and graphics. Sometimes the line is extended and the brand is applied to products or services which dilute or confuse the core equities. These are all ways that brands can be ‘forgotten’ or abused.

But any brand that still has some connection with a large enough constituency can be resurrected. Whether the connection is direct or second hand, if there are enough people out there who know the brand’s roots, its history and its true basic equities, this constituency can be used as a leverage point.

As a result, it is quite viable for a company to leverage one of its own, or buy someone else’s dormant brands and revive them successfully.

Step 1: Return the brand to its roots.

What we are talking about here is not the brand name or trademark. What we are talking about here is the whole package – name, motif, brand equities, and of course, presentation. This is not a modernizing process; rather, it is critical to be more closely tied to its historical relevance than to jazz it up for today.

Step 2: Leverage nostalgia

There is an old saying that politicians, buildings and prostitutes become respectable with time. People have a tendency to want to remember the past more favourably than it may have actually played out. This can be used to a brand’s advantage. Your constituency is not only interested in what the brand evokes, but in what the times during which the brand was relevant evoked.

Coca-Cola has used this idea quite strongly in its positioning. Whereas Pepsi likes to see itself as the brand of the young, that looks to the now and the future, Coke is quite happy with its role as being a brand that has ‘marked’ history for its constituents. People don’t just associate Coke with an era, people are transported back to the values and events of that era because of Coke’s existence during that time.

Step 3: Retain values and equities

Dormant brands can do the same thing. What we learn from the Coke model is to ensure that the ‘values’ and equities of the product stay the same. Coke has remained relatively stable for 100 years. This is because the things that people associate with Coke and with the times during which they were first relevant to them have not changed. Coke does not have to ‘consciously’ evoke images of the past – it is built into everything Coke stands for today.

Your constituency appreciated the values and equities exemplified by the brand at a certain time in their lives so they will long to see those elements revisited. But it must be as they remember them.

The biggest mistake companies make in trying to revive dormant brands is trying to make them ‘relevant’ to today, which usually means discarding everything that gave the brand substance in the past. If the brand was once relevant, then it will still be relevant to some people. Trying to modernize the imagery and that which the brand stands for will only alienate the original brand-lovers and will be a meaningless ‘in the middle – not historical but not contemporary’ positioning for any potential new constituents.

Michael W. Shekter runs The Marketing ADVISORY in Toronto, a consulting, training and resource service for the marketing community. He can be reached at michaels@marketingadvisory.com.