What is it that actually causes a brand to abandon the values and principles that led to its success?Companies who fail at branding can point to a few reasons why, including:

  • Refusing to evolve the brand
  • Not having a brand strategy
  • Muddling the brand strategy with multiple focal points and other sub-branded product/program that ultimately compete with the parent brand
  • Abandoning the brand strategy all together.

As a PR purist I believe in the power of honing and owning your brand message and, as a result, how that affects your brand strategy. So that last reason – abandoning the brand strategy – always surprises me. In most of these cases you could say it’s the result of not having a brand strategy, which is more about the lack of a strategy than abandoning it. Rarely do you see an established brand willingly move away from the components of what ‘made’ the brand in the first place. However, as the economy evolves, the business climate has become more constraining on brands. Whether it’s surviving, succeeding or growing, companies are being forced to make short-term decisions that could potentially affect their long-term brand position (and ultimately brand loyalty). Some examples of this include:

Dominos. Dominos wasn’t subtle about it at all – they recently attacked their brand in a way that would make the Noid proud. Long known as ‘30 minutes or less’ the company is attacking its own commercials from the 80s and saying they are ‘slowing down and offering a hand-tossed pizza’. You can thank Little Caesars ‘hot and ready’ campaign for this – I’m sure the impact on Domino’s business has the company feeling like it has to do something to counter this. I’m not sure abandoning the brand is the way to go though. Their message seems to be very reactionary and inconsistent with the overall brand presence. I fear they may be in for an experience similar to our next example.

JC Penney. JCP’s missteps have been well-documented, and you can see for yourself that abandoning the brand and ignoring its core customers resulted in a downward spiral. The company and tried to create an experience its customers didn’t want while attempting to appeal to a group that didn’t want to shop there. In doing this, JC Penny abandoned what had led to its success in the first place (coupons and great sales on great clothes) for no real good reason. And unlike one of our success stories, further down, they ignored very loud, very clear feedback from their audience. It wasn’t until the CEO was ousted that they went back to the coupons and sales. There’s nothing wrong with trying to leverage a point of differentiation but that differentiation has to be rooted in your core brand. Oh, and your customers have to care about it.

Craftsman. This shows how brand loyal the Sears Craftsman audience is. There was actually a class action lawsuit against Sears because of the fact that all the tools aren’t made in America, which was a long-standing brand platform, but instead, made in China. Sears won’t say what percentage of its tools are made in China but did confirm it utilizes 130 Chinese manufacturers. 40 million people signed that lawsuit because they felt betrayed and abandoned by a brand that stood for something they care about (American manufacturing in this case). Sears figuratively AND literally abandoned its brand.

Maker’s Mark. Makers stands for a quality whiskey and has a fiercely loyal community to ensure that it sticks to that. So when the company announced it was reducing its alcohol volume by 3% so they could increase production and expand – Maker’s audience let them hear it. They weren’t pleased that this move contradicted what the brand stood for and soon enough, that decision was reversed. What made Maker’s reverse its decision? A commitment of quality? No – it was a commitment to customers satisfaction. Maker’s recovered nicely from (temporarily) abandoning its brand by going back to what made the brand so successful in the first place.

I wanted to end with this example because no matter what, a brand can always claw its way back by simply remembering what made it great in the first place. As I mentioned earlier, there are several factors that can result in pressure on a company and a perceived need to act. Of course, businesses need to grow and make money – and they need to evolve and compete to be the best. But the brand is what enables – not hinders – companies  to do this.Creating your brand is the easy part – it’s simply defining ‘who’ you are and why that matters. Managing it on the other hand is the challenge. (Hopefully) as a company grows it will be faced with many opportunities (and threats) that will require it to evolve and adapt. This should be driven by the brand. Abandoning that is a signal to pump the brakes and take another look.

I like to quote movies. And when it comes to a brand and staying true to it, I always think of ‘Hoosiers’. I love the scene where the team makes its debut and the crowd starts chanting ‘We want Jimmy!’ Coach Dale (Gene Hackman) grabs the microphone and says ‘I would hope you’d support who we are, not who we are not’. Your audience, your base, your community wants to support who you are. Let them.