Behind many brand failures are softer mindset issues.
Celebrity brand casualty is shaking the world and making news. Following the recent sub-prime crisis in the US, we have seen the demise of venerated brands like Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers and the near death of AIG — rescued by a last-minute bailout. Such brand demises make news; however, infant brand deaths that happen regularly are treated as just a part of business life. This is not a post-mortem of death of celebrity brands and their causes — much is anyway being written about them. It is, however, a moment to pause and ponder about why thousands of brands, sub-brands and variants fall by the wayside; very often after much-thought-through and heralded launches.
It’s a fact that many brands die because they often come into the market with undifferentiated products with little business muscle — in distribution and promotion. Some fall because their managers don’t either have the farsight or the fortitude to build the brand conscientiously. However, there are enough cases of brands developed and launched by large reputed companies with enough marketing and financial muscle that don’t take off. Often failed concepts of big marketers end up working in the hands of little, enterprising entrepreneurs! So the reasons behind these failures are perhaps more in the minds of the marketers than in the marketplace. It’s worth exploring these reasons for brand failure.
The first reason could be impatience. The “hundred days” post-launch is considered the most important period by many marketers as a barometer of success for a brand. The results in this period could be a mirage. “Quick consumer adoption” may be more an indicator of the innovators buying the brand rather than market acceptance of the product. “Slow start” may not necessarily mean rejection but may indicate that the concept needs time for consumers to accept and buy. Writing a report card based on the first hundred days of a brand’s existence is much like looking at brand building as a “sprint race” rather than as a “marathon”. Early speed or early lagging behind is no indicator of the final result. Surprisingly, marketers who have spent months developing a product tend to get impatient once they enter the market — disheartened or elated by the first signs of problems or success!
The second cause of infant brand mortality is the lack of experimentation post-launch. Much as marketers believe brands are created in the minds of consumers, they would like consumers to mirror and voice their brand mixes. This could be dangerous; especially in the early stages of a brand’s life. Brands are like children that need to be nurtured, developed and guided as they get into the real world rather than be instructed to go where you want them to. Propositions thought of at the time of launch may not be the real strength of the brand — it could be adopted for entirely different reasons. However, few marketers, post-launch, spend time figuring out why it’s being adopted by those who are buying; they tend to take their entry positions as cast in stone. Hence, brands end up being forced to go in one direction — the one determined pre-launch. If it doesn’t work, the brand is abandoned. It may be worthwhile to consider developing propositions as one goes into the market rather than staying married to a pre-launch view.
The third cause is fatigue — brands are often a creation of long gestation periods where brand creators have lived with the concept for a couple of years. Not surprisingly they tend to get tired by the time it is launched. Hidden in fatigue is perhaps the reason for impatience and lack of experimentation. Marketers tend to forget that the consumer has just got exposed to the concept and needs time to soak it in, understand it and absorb it. Often long periods of incubation result in teams forgetting the basic premise on which the brand was to be created and the output is quite different from what was envisaged. In other cases, long time lines could mean change in market situations and hence the brand fundamentals not being relevant by the time they actually hit the marketplace. Fatigue could also mean that even though aware, marketers are too tired to retrace steps and review the mix.
The fourth reason is the big portfolio syndrome. The bigger the company, the more difficult it is to launch successfully a new brand — simply because marketers, salesmen and business heads have other successful products in the portfolio to fall back upon for success. No one’s life depends on it. The creation process is very exciting and glamorous; however, sustenance needs patience, persistence and perspiration and is much less glamorous. In larger set-ups, on-going successful brands become good and easy fallback options.
The fifth reason for brands not taking off is ego — linked to change of ownership. In entrepreneurial outfits, brand creators are stuck with them for life and there is never the case of not-invented-here syndrome. However, in larger set-ups, change in brand management can result in either re-scripting brand’s charted paths so that the new brand owner can put his stamp on it or de-prioritisation of the brand as the new owner sees little glory in it — resulting in it losing its way.
A sixth and final factor is lack of passion. Most brands that enter the market, especially through large organisational marketers, are launched based on logic. Much as opportunities are identified by scientific market research, real opportunities need to be “created” rather than “exploited”. This is where passion plays a more important role than rational logic. If marketers are passionate about the new launches, the inherent energy will ensure paths of survival are found for the brand. In its absence, an equal number of rational reasons can be found to abandon a project as there were to launch it!
Many marketing theorists rue the fact that there are too many brand deaths and outline rational checklists to ensure brand successes. Unfortunately few recognise “mindset” solutions — softer questions marketers need to consider behind market failures.
Are the failures of iconic brands in the recent financial crisis a case of bad business management or a result of a “mindset” that believes the purpose of business is only to make money?
Something worth asking and thinking about.
6 months ago