Co.Design

Sometimes A Brand Isn't Worth Saving. Here's How To Tell

Five questions to ask before deciding whether to invest in a rebranding campaign or pull the plug.

[This is the first in a five-part series from Jump Associates.—Ed.]

Large companies looking to jump-start growth tend to be more successful when reinventing an existing brand than creating one from whole cloth. However, not all brands have the same potential for growth through revitalization. All too often, at the sight of declining sales, the knee-jerk reaction is to try to reinvent a brand without asking if it’s worth the investment in the first place.

Asking these five questions will help companies determine which businesses are worth investing in—and which ones to leave behind.

1. Can its value proposition be redefined?

Increasing a brand’s relevance to a greater number of people is one way to grow the business. But some propositions are more easily redefined than others. In fact, sometimes a clear proposition can actually make it harder for a brand to refresh its image. One approach is to take a brand focused on a functional benefit, and redefine it around an emotional benefit.

For example, prior to Dove’s 2006 “Campaign for Real Beauty,” Dove’s point of differentiation was a functional one: with moisturizing cream, its products were uniquely suited to cleanse skin without drying it out. With the brand refresh, Dove’s new proposition of supporting authentic beauty appealed to a broader swath of women at an emotional level. The new positioning increased sales of Dove products in the U.S. and abroad by 700%.

2. Is the category growing, or does it demonstrate growth potential?

Often, businesses undergo a reinvention in order to make strides into a growing category. Any new category won’t do, however. The brand must already demonstrate a right to play based on existing competencies or equities.

K-Y Jelly began as a surgical lubricant preferred by doctors because of its water- soluble base. Although Johnson & Johnson began marketing a consumer (nonsterile) version of the product in the 1980s, it took another two decades for the company to realize how lucrative a brand K-Y could become if they would just embrace K-Y’s role as a sexual lubricant. In order to do so, the company completely shut down its medical business, rebranded its identity in 2004, and added climax-enhancing gels and massage oils to its product line.

3. Is it on trend?

Brands on the wrong side of history, like Hummer in an age of environmental consciousness, are difficult to align with growing trends. The investment that’s potentially required to change perceptions of a strong brand may not be worth it. Companies are often better off acquiring or creating a new brand to tap into the trend.

In the case of Sierra Mist, however, parent company PepsiCo saw the writing on the wall in the political and social clamor around healthy eating. Sierra Mist—a lemon-lime-flavored carbonated soft drink—was an obvious brand to kick off PepsiCo’s new commitment to health. PepsiCo re-launched it in 2010 as Sierra Mist Natural, a caffeine-free and all-natural formulation sweetened with real cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. In its first six months on the market, sales of Sierra Mist Natural experienced double-digit growth and made up for previous years’ decline in sales.

4. Is its revenue sizable?

Although past performance does not guarantee future success, sizable sales figures may suggest underutilized consumer love. A brand that demonstrates the ability to generate strong sales should be built into a more robust business.

P&G did this after having initial success with the launch of Febreze Fabric Refresher in 1998. Market research confirmed that Febreze fulfilled an unmet consumer need. More surprising, though, was the discovery that consumers were using the product not just in the laundry room but in every other room in their homes. P&G followed up with several new products, such as odor-eliminating air fresheners and candles, and line extensions, including a variety of fragrances to accommodate different tolerance levels for scent. Today, Febreze is one of P&G’s billion-dollar brands.

5. Is it strategically useful for developing the company’s competencies?

Brands that signify broader opportunities that a company wants to take advantage of across the portfolio can help build internal capabilities.

For P&G, Oil of Olay was a key leverage point in gaining a more robust market position in health and beauty. Between 1984 (when P&G acquired Oil of Olay’s parent company, Richard-Vicks) and 1997, P&G almost exclusively acquired health and beauty brands, signaling its interest in the category. The process of reinventing Olay in the late 1990s helped P&G improve its skin-care and packaging technology as well as develop a more sophisticated understanding of how to appeal to women.

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And what about the brands that don’t meet any of these criteria? The toughest part of following any strategy is divesting from businesses that were once successful and may still have loyal consumers. P&G took this step with Crisco in 2001, when prevailing health science blasted hydrogenated oils for contributing to this nation’s heart disease epidemic. Luckily for the brand, it still retained enough equity to attract a merger with J. M. Smucker, a food company whose competencies were arguably more appropriate for transforming the brand into a 21st-century kitchen staple.

As it turns out, not all brands are worth reinventing. Asking these five critical questions can help companies make the right decision for their brand, even if that means letting it die.

Joyce Chen thrives on translating insights about human behavior into actionable principles and strategies that drive sustainable design. With a strong research background in user experience and a design planning education, Joyce flows between analytical, detail-oriented tasks and higher-level synthesis and planning with ease. Prior to Jump, Joyce consulted for clients across industries in user experience design and brand strategy. She’s also spent time at in-house research and design groups in Silicon Valley tech companies. Joyce holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Stanford’s Joint Product Design program and a Master of Design in Design Planning from IIT’s Institute of Design.

[Top image by Xlibber]

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8 Comments

  • Joyce

    Thanks for your comments, all.
    Marcus: agreed that the general public has over-used and mis-used the word "brand" in the same way that we've over-used "innovation" and "design." For the purpose of this article, I used "brand" to be synonymous with "business" (which, yes, reveals an audience bias toward large companies who own multiple brands as businesses), and I think your concise definition fits nicely.

  • marcusosborne

    Well, this is the first part of a 5 part series but what isn't clear is if the other 4 parts will be related to the same topic.

    Branding has evolved and it is no longer enough to simply create a compelling value proposition, positioning strategy and so on and push it our across traditional and other media.

    Building a brand requires so much more, especially as consumers not companies now define brands.

    However, the main issue I have with any story related to brands and
    branding is "What is the definition of a brand?" Because unless we're
    all on the same page moving forward, any exercise is wasted.

    At the risk of being (fairly )accused of self promotion, I give a definition of what is a brand here http://brandconsultantasia.wor...

  • Chris

    Great read and thank you for insight. I would add does the product deliver on the brand promise as all to often one of these falls short.  

  • JohnRichardBell

    Real good check-list here. One other point to add - look at the brand as would an entrepreneur. Would the entrepreneur rather invest time, energy and money into the brand for "x" return or choose to put that effort into another brand for a better return? If you decide to divest or "milk", then you have a new source of cash for the winners.  That's a prudent corporate strategy.

  • Rajan Baliah Esq

    A thought to consider but may be hard to do especially for small businesses which most likely will have an emotional tie to their brand!

    Rajan Baliah Esq
    DR Heart
    MALAYSIA

  • Karen Moran

    Great read - says the gal who used to work on...Oldsmobile.  Turns out - it really still was your father's car...that no one still wanted.