When should companies allow declining, aging brands to quietly finish their life cycles, and conversely, when should they opt to revitalize them? Crucial questions that product manufacturers must find answers for in this age of fast-changing consumer needs and desires, increasingly global competition and diminishing awareness of heritage brands among younger consumers.
Many business school-educated, experienced CMOs and brand managers feel that brands follow irrevocable life stages: they are born, they mature, they plateau and eventually begin to decline and die. Generally, companies that witness specific brands in their portfolios go into the decline phase employ the “best business practice” of cutting advertising and marketing investments on these brands, reallocating the dollars on growth brands instead. Without any marketing support, declining brands continue to wither away and die.
Companies sometimes choose to sell off weakening brands or discount them to wring whatever value is left in the brand out, instead. Yet, with the heavy investment necessary to launch new brands and products, companies seem to be interested in the revitalization of diminishing brands more than ever before.
The question remains: how can companies determine whether to invest in the revitalization of brands or not? Consumer research plays a vital role in this process. Mature brands have great heritage, and might still be enjoyed by consumers who have had positive, longstanding relationships with them. However, research will uncover valuable information. By surveying consumers who have long-term relationships with older brands, the following data can be mined:
Mature brands tend to share common characteristics. They have not been historically discounted, but tend to be moderately to higher-priced within their respective categories. They are profitable, enjoying healthy profit margins. Since these brands have been around for decades, they normally have widespread distribution in many retail channels, and tend to be supported by fewer marketing initiatives. Thus, these brands are “out of sight and out of mind” to many consumers. Consumer mind share translates to market share, thus companies that choose to revitalize brands must commit themselves to developing a comprehensive marketing and advertising program. This will recall the brand to its heritage customers, and bring them back to purchasing its products again. It will also begin to create brand awareness among new generations of consumers.
What are the points of differentiation, or unique selling proposition of the brand, per their perception?
What are the brand’s Enjoyment assets? How many pleasant associations and experiences have consumers had with the brand?
What are the negatives, if any, associated with the brand?
What is the perceived value of the brand?
Is the perceived value of the brand still active, or is it dormant? How does it stack up against the brands in those same categories?
How relevant is the brand?
What, in the consumers’ perception, can the brand do for them to add value or more desirable attributes?
How much loyalty is there to the brand?
Once a sound decision—based on the research—has been made to revitalize, brand managers can make subtle, or not-so-subtle changes to the brand core attributes if the research indicates this is necessary. Or, they might opt to change the brand experience at every consumer touch point to contemporize or make the brand more relevant to today’s consumers. Packaging, consumer promotions and advertising, as well as customer service all factor into the creation of the consumers’ total brand experience.
Three Kinds of Revitalization
Sometimes revitalization requires the rebranding of a company from the top down. That can include a refurbishment of the logo, trademark and trade dress to revamp the entire corporate brand image. Sometimes it involves an updating of the brand’s products and specific product attributes with better, demanded features. Revitalization can also require repackaging for a fresher, more contemporary brand look to appeal to new generations of consumers.
One of the best examples of the successful corporate revitalization is Samsung. In the mid 1990’s, Samsung Electronics’ chairman and senior management made a landmark decision. They decided that Samsung would no longer provide commodity electronics products to the world’s retailers, including WalMart, but would instead focus on the development of innovative product design and stake out its own claim to become a global brand. The company focused on product innovation and brand-design strategy, and saw a meteoric rise in sales and brand value in a few short years.
The transformation of Samsung's image from manufacturer of commodity electronics to a product innovator and leader has provided global business with a stunning brand revitalization blueprint. In the 2005 Interbrand and Business “Annual Report: Global Brands” ranking, Samsung was rated as the 20th most valuable brand among the world’s top 100 global brands. The company’s brand value was assessed at $14.9 billion!
The revitalization of corporate brand identity is sometimes essential for service providers, sports and entertainment organizations, as well. When the National Hockey League concluded successful contract negotiations ensuring that there would actually be a professional hockey season after a year off, the league decided that it was time to revitalize its brand identity. Since the league had had the same identity since 1918, this move was perhaps overdue! At the same time, the NHL made some new rule changes for the game to speed up an already fast game. Both of these steps were obviously taken recently to polish up the tarnished image of the league with fans. The NHL’s new logo features an updated badge that has a three-dimensional quality to it, with shiny, silver lettering on a black ground. No more muddy orange. The silver connotes Lord Stanley’s cup, arguably the most prized championship trophy in North America. The serifs on the new logo lettering, leaning leftward, denotes speed and movement: trademarks of a fast sport. Whether these changes enable the NHL to rebound and grow in popularity, or the sport continues to lag well behind the other professional team sports, remains to be seen.
Another striking example of corporate as well as product revitalization is Cadillac. A long-loved American luxury automobile brand, Cadillac started dying a slow death in the past few decades with its stodgy image and lack of consumer relevance. Even mature, affluent buyers of luxury cars were buying Mercedes, Lexuses and BMWs. Enter in the Escalade—a powerful SUV loaded with bells, whistles and plenty of edgy urban appeal. Urban appeal for an affluent, young, hip audience that is willing to shell out $60,000 on average to drive a Cadillac! Enter in On Star technology to GM’s options package for Cadillac, as well as its other brands, and there is clearly a perception of additional value, as well as differentiation from other luxury automobile brands. Once a dying brand, Cadillac is now a 21st century, urban symbol!
Arm & Hammer cleverly rejuvenated its product and brand when the slow-down in home baking adversely affected sales by emphasizing its two greatest attributes: the cleaning and deodorizing properties of its product. By demonstrating myriad uses for baking soda in the home—personal care, pet care, and home cleansing and deodorizing—Arm & Hammer turned slumping sales into major sales increases. Then, the company further leveraged its brand’s cleaning and deodorizing properties into major brand extensions: oral care and laundry care. These new category extensions have been successful for the 150-year-old brand, which continues to enjoy great heritage, even as it continues to attract new and ever-younger generations of consumers.
Brand Revitalization & Packaging
Myriad CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands are constantly being revitalized and repackaged in order to contemporize them for new generations of consumers and to ensure companies continuing growth in equity. Food and HBA brands are masters at revitalization. A venerable brand that was recently revitalized is P&G’s Head & Shoulders dandruff shampoos. When sales went flat on this venerable 40-year-old brand recently, P&G decided that it should be revitalized. The brand was repositioned to meet the needs of consumers who are looking for more than an anti-dandruff shampoo. With the relaunch of the line, consumers can now purchase the classic formula, or meet their more cosmetic-oriented needs, with reformulated SKUs that guarantee extra fullness, dry scalp care or intensive treatment, among others. With the revitalization of the brand, P&G management now feels that the line has a broader appeal among many more consumers.
As is customary with P&G, the consumer products giant also repackaged the Head & Shoulders product line. Sleeker, contemporary packaging reduced package size and a higher price point for additional anti-dandruff ingredients also give the repositioned heritage brand the same presence as a salon formula line, rather than that of a basic, utilitarian product.
Speaking of revitalized branding and packaging for heritage food/beverage brands, there are myriad examples we can cite: Ovaltine, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Gatorade, Altoids mints and Wonder Bread among them. With the current and ongoing push on the part of the food and beverage industries to meet the needs and demands of health-conscious consumers, many manufacturers are undergoing major brand and packaging revitalization overhauls.
Take a look at the 80-year-old Wonder Bread brand. The classic white bread packaging has been contemporized for a new generation of kids, with more of an emphasis on its vitamin, mineral and folic acid content—something of significant importance to moms. Additional new packaging has been created for Wonder Classic Sandwich Bread and new Wonder Whole Grain White Bread and Wonder White Bread Fans 100% Whole Grain Bread; the latter two are nods to today’s more health-conscious, educated consumer who wants the uncompromising taste and softness of the original Wonder Bread along with the health benefits of whole grains.
Snack food giant Frito Lay revitalized its famous line of snack chips by eliminating trans fats in the form of hydrogenated oils recently. The company then revitalized the packaging of its extensive line to make the “0 grams Trans Fats” very prominent on the upper right hand corner of every snack product package. The company also touts the use of whole grains in a number of its snack products as well as other more nutritional ingredients to fulfill its commitment to consumers to provide them with tasty snacks that are more healthy and nutritious.
With its announcement that the company has undertaken a very recent sodium reduction initiative, Campbell Soup Company can reposition its flagship top selling red and white canned soups and condensed kids’ soups by reformulating them using natural, lower-sodium sea salt, rather than sodium. This move enables Campbell’s to cut sodium by 25% in these products. Again: this is a nod to the consumer demand for healthy, more nutritious food choices. The reformulation of Campbell’s “Healthy Request” soup line in the same manner will cut sodium, even though these products already contain 45% less sodium than the company’s regular varieties. This initiative likewise necessitates a repositioning and repackaging of these heritage brands, which enjoy considerable equity and category leadership in the marketplace.
Contemporizing Packaging the Right Way
CPG companies feel the pressure to repackage with more frequency now than in years past. Increased brand competition, changing consumer needs and the plethora of new products hitting the retail shelf in every category are expediting this process. While it is important to keep product packaging fresh and contemporary as brand managers reposition to continue to appeal to current customers, while attracting new ones, several things must be kept in mind. Nothing is more important than the retention of brand heritage and equity. In fact, those very strengths of the mature brand should be leveraged to the max when revitalizing packaging.
Consumer research, when conducted meaningfully, yields critical information on the brand drivers, some of which have been hidden or latent when products have been in the marketplace for decades. This information enables the brand identity and package design expert to focus on them and play them up, making certain that the brand and product core Enjoyment Assets™ are firmly in place. The brand logo, brand colors and other significant brand communications can be emphasized, as well.
How well the packaging enables a company’s products to own a merchandised presence on the retail shelf, and real visibility, is a crucial issue. How quickly and efficiently packaging communicates the products’ features and attributes directly affects sales and the potential for category leadership. How meaningfully engaged the targeted demographic is, by specific packaging communications and the evocation of Enjoyment Assets™, likewise have a direct impact on sales and category positioning. The development of a proper hierarchy of brand communications is essential to this process. Creating that all-important Enjoyment Moment™ likewise cements the customer’s intention to purchase, or repurchase the product. Leveraging the Enjoyment Assets™ of the brand and product via its packaging goes a long way to creating the kind of experiential marketing scenario that cements customer loyalty.
Ground-breaking new structural packaging can show the product and brand off to advantage, as well as convenience features, new portion control size packaging, pressure-sensitive labels, or sharp new graphic design elements that relay the brand message. The important thing is to design and develop a comprehensive look and feel that is truly in sync with the overall brand identity.
Since a brand’s packaging is its most enduring and accessible brand communication vehicle, it’s important that it convey the brand experience through an innovative structure and package design system. The brand’s packaging must be a synergistic part of the overall brand expression continuum. Recognizable, trusted brands in visually appealing, stimulating packaging have a distinct advantage in a sea of product sameness, in category after category.
Bottom line: revitalizing a corporate brand when consumer research signals the time is right, or sales have either come to a plateau, or begun to slump, is an essential component of ongoing brand management. Revitalizing a brand’s products contemporizes and gives new life to what could have been perceived as a tired, aging consumer goods line. Finally, once the corporate brand and product line have been revitalized, rejuvenating the packaging allows the CPG company to communicate its new, realigned brand message, prioritize its communication hierarchies and share our firm refers to as its Enjoyment Assets™ fully with its customers.
And nothing continues to build on the brand’s heritage and equity with more power than that.
Ted Mininni is president of Design Force, Inc., a metro New York area consultancy that specializes in brand identity, package design and consumer promotion campaigns for the food & beverage and toy & entertainment industries. Mr. Mininni can be reached at 856-810-2277 or online at www.designforceinc.com.