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 / Spring 2008 / Issue 50(originally published by Booz & Company)


New Life for Tired Brands

To study the value proposition, companies have to look at three different perspectives on the brand: consumer, competitor, and internal. The first looks at whether the brand can deliver to consumers tangible benefits that positively influence key purchase drivers. The second looks at how the brand is differentiated from its competitors in the minds of the target customer and whether it is difficult to imitate, even in the long run. And the last looks at whether the company can actually deliver on the value proposition. It reflects the brand’s core competencies and whether they are easily understood, both internally and externally.

This may be a sobering exercise, but it is absolutely necessary if a company is to make a correct decision about whether to revitalize or abandon the brand. In the case of the Taurus, it’s clear that the value proposition diminished over time. At the end of its first life cycle, it was difficult for consumers to justify buying the higher-priced Taurus when competitors’ cars had matched, or surpassed, the brand’s core features. The new Taurus brand, which replaced the Five Hundred, may still have to work on providing a more compelling value proposition if it is to be a true competitor in the family sedan marketplace. Current advertising pushes the message that the Taurus is “rated the safest full-size family car in America.” Although safety is an important attribute to many car buyers — and a common claim among carmakers — it is not what turned the old Taurus into an icon, and it will do little to add vitality to the brand or differentiate it from the competition.

Brand Vitality Potential
A brand can take many paths toward revitalization. Although there certainly is room for qualitative judgments, this final evaluation is where the cold hard facts, as uncovered by the previous four analyses, come into play.

We often find that a simple “back to roots” strategy would work fine, as it did with the Mustang. This is typically the case after a failed growth strategy. The parent company, usually under pressure from investors, demands ever-greater sales results and growth targets until the brand grows beyond its niche and loses the attributes that made it unique. Sales subsequently drop dramatically because the brand never appealed to new customers and has lost its appeal with its original customer base. At this point the brand team must decide whether to retrench or replace.

Alternatively, we may find that the entire product category has reached the end of its natural life cycle, and should be phased out and replaced with something else. If this is the case, can the brand attributes of the old category be extended into a new category? Brand extension potential is a function of four factors: perception of the brand’s quality, whether the new product complements the old one, whether consumers believe the brand’s old attributes can be transferred to the new product, and whether the new product category can be substituted for the old one.

This was the question facing Kodak, which lost its market dominance when its core film business gave way to digital photography. Suddenly, Kodak went from being the number one brand in photography to competing fiercely with Canon, Nikon, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard, all of which have some piece of the digital photography business. Kodak has been able to transfer some of its brand equity to such products as digital cameras, printers, and its online Kodak Gallery. However, it has been unable to recapture the market supremacy it had when the film business was analog.

The Brand Vitality Assessment is not a panacea for tired brands. Brands get tired for a host of reasons, and it may be impossible to revitalize them after years of negative associations and sluggish performance. What the BVA offers is a rigorous, data-driven approach to deciding a brand’s future. Companies that do choose to revitalize old brands should realize that the decision to go forward is only the beginning. The decision to revive a brand should include a commitment to its continued nourishment, to making the necessary investments, and to building the capabilities to make the brand’s new life robust.

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