The pantheon of brands that failed to evolve with changing tastes, behaviors, and/or technologies and disappeared from our world is bigger than most people realize because we rarely think of things we no longer see and experience. Some of the brands that I used that are no longer with us because they failed to keep up with change include Pier 1 Imports, Sports Authority, Palm, Pontiac, Levitz, Blockbuster, Amoco, and most recently Bed Bath and Beyond. You will likely have a different, if not similarly extensive list.
When brands are doing well, which all of the above brands did at some point before disappearing, it is often difficult for brand owners to make changes because of the natural tendency to not fix what “ain’t broke”. But brands need to adapt to a changing world or get left behind, and sometimes, that change progresses slowly and subtly, and brands that are not attuned to that slow pace of change eventually find themselves on the outs. In what follows, we discuss the considerations for keeping your brand in tune with the changing world.
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Brands that stay strong and powerful over time are those that know who they are and why they exist but who also change with their customers and the world at large. At one time, Blockbuster owned the home entertainment space but failed to adapt to changes in technology and competitive offerings and withered on the vine.
The core elements of evolving a brand fall into two main strategies: Recognizing change and adapting the brand accordingly.
1. Recognize Change
In order to recognize change that warrants adapting the brand requires a brand owner to stay in tune with their customers. Customers will be the first to indicate a change is needed in what the brand offers and does. Good market research, tracking and analysis of customer comments across social media and customer service functions are essential here. They will help flag changes in brand preference, usage, competitive experimentation, etc. Careful probing and listening are essential to getting an early read on changes that may be occurring. Toys R Us missed how consumers gradually switched to buying toys online from fast-growing e-retailers like Amazon and failed to build out its own online offering in time.
Second, brand owners need to stay attuned to the larger context in which the brand operates. How are consumer trends changing? What nascent technologies are in the offing? What regulatory changes seem likely? What secondary or tertiary competitors are a threat because of a novel business model or technology? Staying informed in a broad socio-cultural way will help brands spot opportunities to remain relevant and even grow in exciting new ways. Remember that Excite!, once the number two browser behind Yahoo, decided not to purchase Google for $750,000 and 1% in Excite! when it had that chance back in 1999.
2. Adapt to Change
It’s one thing to recognize changes that may impact the brand in the near to long future; it’s another altogether to adapt to those changes. Businesses, especially those doing well at the moment, tend to discount the need for change and/or tend to be risk averse…often until it is too late.
Some brand changes may just require a tweak to messaging or the offering itself. Others may suggest engaging in a new collaboration or partnership. Finally, some changes may require a brand to change its offering more substantially. Regardless of which, strong brands that are in it for the long haul should be experimenting with innovation on a regular basis. Again, market research, pilot market runs, and trial marketing on new media platforms are all good ways to test the waters before making wholesale changes to the brand.
Change is a fact of life. For humans as well as brands. As Heraclitus said some 2,500 years ago, “You never step into the same river twice.” This is even truer today than it was back then. Embrace change—your brand, at least, has a chance of staying young and fresh forever.