Monday, October 17, 2011

Brand Durability Challenged

It's dependable.  You like it.  It's you. It looks good!  And it works!  What is it?   It's a brand.  Like Ford or Mott's or Coca-Cola or Apple or any other brand that has been around for many years.  You feel a connection with and loyalty to it.

Nevertheless, as styles and standards change, new products enter the market that challenge the modernity of the pillar brand, and the consumer thinks, ”Maybe I ought to try that.”  When that happens, should the brand with stature update itself to better compete, or trust that consumers will stand by their previous commitment?  In fact, change may threaten a longstanding customer relationship.

 Recently, The New York Times addressed this topic via the latest craze in frozen yogurt retail stores:  self-service, tart-tasting products and more flavors … all served up in pristine white environments accented by bright colors.  These chain stores are proliferating under such names as Red Mango, Swizzles, Pinkberry, etc.  In contrast, the newspaper cites the experience of the Bigg Chill, a traditional, 21-year-old frozen yogurt store that has few of the "with it" attributes of leading-edge yogurt shops.  No cool interior — in fact, somewhat old-fashioned.  No tart tastes or self-service.  And no chain store strategy.  Yet, surprisingly, customers stand in line every night to buy the coveted product.  

Nevertheless, the owners considered altering  their product line and remodeling the store, but decided against it.   They decided they had a great thing going and were reluctant to dramatically change the brand.  They would add some flavors, including a tart one, and otherwise stay put.  The long lines continue -- and the Bigg Chill may be beating out their new competitors, based on a slight brand refresh.

So what conclusions do we draw from this?

  • Don't take brand heritage for granted.  Authenticity can trump flash.  Credibility, quality and consistency continue to be valued by customers, particularly during tough economic times.
  • Look before you leap.  Coca-Cola tried a total brand update with New Coke and fell on its face.  The brand value of the older product superseded everything else.   GE changed its tagline (from “we bring good things to life” to “imagination at work”), but kept its classic — some might even say “old-fashioned” — logo.  As much as consumers are attracted to the new and exciting and may sample them for a while, they often return to and stick with the product that offers them reliability, comfort and a heritage of satisfaction. 
  • Remain open to new opportunities.  Be on the lookout, via competitors and general research, for new thinking that may influence or enhance a longstanding favored brand.  A refresh can stimulate business.  Figure out which brand elements consumers are attracted to and keep them.  Since consumers generally gravitate to where value is the greatest, be cognizant of the underlying attributes that will enhance value.  In other words, don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

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