Monday, March 16, 2015
WAKING A SLEEPING BRAND
It’s more and more common nowadays for companies and their marketers to “activate” a long-overlooked or dormant brand. Not so many years ago, hearing such a verb—to activate—wouldn’t have made much sense--why even bother having a brand in the portfolio that wasn’t in some way active? But, as we have seen in so many categories, consolidation has resulted in fewer small players…and with even fewer big ones gobbling up the brands the small ones left behind. Since no company’s resources are unlimited, then, smaller or acquired brands are finding themselves left unattended—or with just the minimum attending to keep them in distribution. You could say that such brands are basically inactive, or “sleeping.”
The decision to activate one of these sleeping brands often depends upon a number of senior management considerations, including:
- Decelerating growth rates on brands already activated;
- Attractiveness of growth rates in the sleeping brand’s category;
- Parent company demands for volume and profit growth;
- Investment funds required for activation;
- Length of time the brand in question has been “neglected”;
- Innovation activities for similar brands in other regions;
- And, the relative ease-of-entry into comparable innovation.
But even with the due diligence of such considerations, sometimes the decision of which brand to activate next comes down to past experience and good judgment. Once the decision is made, however, there’s an even bigger consideration: how to best ensure the likelihood of a successful, sustained activation?
Because sleeping brands have typically been left alone for a good while, and because time is always of the essence, the prevailing tendency in “waking” a sleeping brand is to engineer in some relatively easy product news (new flavor, new form, new package graphics) and to commence communications of some kind—to tout the news, naturally. And, to do both as quickly as possible. It’s hard to fault this combination; after all, we know very well what a little product news and some rekindled brand awareness can do for customer re-trial or return to use. But there is an essential first order-of-business that always ought to precede innovation and communication: set (or re-set) the brand positioning before any brand activation.
Happily, in working recently with a client overseas, this is exactly the first step they took. With an extensive portfolio of sweet snacks, the client’s company had seen that (a) their big volume brands had run their course of innovation and high category growth rates; (b) their leading mid-tier volume brand had undergone more than five years of inattention—it was clearly sleeping; (c) category growth rates for similar products around the globe had taken off, however, thanks in large part to clever, variety-driving product innovation; and (d) their company had only participated in “10% of that category’s global innovation moves.” Oh yes, and one other big factor: the number one competitor brand in their country had likewise remained sleeping. In short, their analysis screamed out that the time was right to lead activation. In speaking with the company’s Brand Team, we made a point of asking them, “Knowing how prevalent innovation in this brand’s category runs globally, why don’t you just buy some new equipment, make a few ads, and get some product news out there ASAP?” They gave the smart, right answer to this trick question: “We’re prepared to invest significant company resources in this activation…and there is no way we can do this without making sure everything fits with and supports a positioning that can win in the marketplace.
It would be natural to simply reinstate the brand’s original or previous positioning, right? Obviously, the brand in question had a positioning before it “went to sleep.” But here’s the reality: unless you’re a brand with the stature and awareness of, say, Heineken or Volvo or Coca-Cola, falling asleep for a few years erodes a positioning mighty fast. Or perhaps better said, a brand positioning demands on-going implementation and reinforcement; in today’s over-crowded marketplace with endless media options, there is no way a brand can keep its positioning “quiet” and expect it to remain in force.
This is in fact precisely what our client discovered as they undertook some early consumer research to assess the current status of the brand they planned to activate. Consumers—even moderate to heavy users of the brand—could not readily articulate what needs or benefits the brand stood for. Likewise, they expressed no feeling of relationship with the brand. Even more discouraging, a good many of these consumers referred to the brand as being produced by their competitor! Given this state of affairs, the Brand Team wisely decided to rebuild the brand’s positioning, starting with their best understanding of what that positioning was before the brand went dormant, and then evolving it to relevance. Perhaps most important of all, this evolution involved the development of a wide range of possible positioning strategies—all within the context of expected innovation moves to come.
You know how it is when someone is fast asleep and you have been tasked to wake him or her up for, say, an important occasion. You set an alarm, you make some noise, and if they are really heavy sleepers, you might even rock the bed and shove them around a bit. You make some moves to jolt them out of their deep sleep. Well, that may work fine for people. But when it comes to waking up sleeping brands, our best advice is to hold off on the jolting moves—until you’re sure you have the right brand positioning…to overlay and direct all of those moves, that is.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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