THE ROAD BACK
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A BRAND HAS TAKEN A WRONG TURN? EXPERTS SUGGEST WAYS TO COME BACK INTO FAVOR WITH CONSUMERS.
Byline: Dianne M. Pogoda
NEW YORK — There are a number of reasons a brand might fall out of favor with the public.
A company might lose its focus; changes in design, manufacturing, distribution or some other element of production might alter the quality of the merchandise, or the message sent by the advertising might deviate from what the public wants or likes, turning consumers off.
Such missteps can ultimately send a brand into oblivion — unless savvy managers can develop a plan to bring it back.
Two prime examples of brands that have fallen and then roared back to prominence — and tremendous financial success — are Gucci, in the designer market, and Sears, at the moderate end.
Redefining a brand requires courage, according to Carol Fertig and Syndey Brooks, partners in The Smart Co., a consulting firm here.
“It takes a lot to admit you have a problem,” said Fertig. “Realizing you have to reinvent yourself is half the battle. The key thing is that an executive believe in the change and commit resources to implementing it.”
The partners suggested several strategies:
Examine the product for ways to make it more forward.
“Look at Diane Von Furstenberg,” said Brooks. “She has reentered the market with an interesting campaign, suggesting that there is something familiar about her wrap-dress silhouette, which was made famous in the Seventies, but that it’s modern for today.”
Fertig added: “She realized she had to make it more modern — change the silhouette, the fabrics, cut the arm holes narrower, for example — but she kept the essence of the brand. That’s an important point in formulating the strategy for change: extract the essence of what the company stands for and that which is modern about the brand.”
Consider changing the graphics. “It doesn’t have to be a huge change — it should still be recognizable to the consumer — but again, it should have a more modern look,” Fertig said.
Reexamine distribution. “This is also a courageous step, because it might mean loss of revenue in the short term, but in the long term, it is beneficial,” Fertig said. “That’s what Gucci did: It pulled back on its distribution.”
In the late Seventies, Sears made a halfhearted effort to revamp its clothing selections, but top management at the time was not really committed to it — it was seen as a hard goods store with a small apparel business, according to observers.
“Until [chairman] Arthur Martinez came along with his expertise in apparel retailing and totally revamped that business,” said Brooks.
There are other steps in developing a comeback strategy.
Adelle B. Kirk, manager of consumer marketing for Kurt Salmon Associates, outlined two keys in rebuilding a brand gone astray: “First, it’s a matter of reconnecting with the customer, particularly if you’ve lost touch,” she said. “Find out what’s important to her, how she’s changed, and what she thinks of your brand now.
“The second step is for a brand to reinvent itself. Decide what you want to convey, and then be consistent and focused in that image, both in product and in its promotion,” she said.
Using Gucci as an example, Kirk noted that after it had failed to mean anything to the consumer, its executives focused on the fact that it was going to stand for designer fashion. It was committed to that goal, in the redesign of the product under Tom Ford, its pricing and its image advertising.
“Sears found that its weakness with consumers was its softer side,” she said, “so that’s where its advertising push was focused.”
Kirk noted, however, that the rebranding did not stop at the clever advertising slogan. Sears had completely rebuilt its soft goods selection, significantly increased the space it devoted to apparel, developed several of its own labels, like Canyon River Blues, and began to carry some popular brands that previously did not sell there.
“Ads don’t build consumer loyalty, they build consumer trial,” she said. “The ads get people to come into the store, but unless the product lives up to that image, people aren’t coming back. The key is to be as consistent with execution as with the image.”