When Toyota released the first mass-produced, mid-engine sports car to come from a Japanese manufacturer – the new MR2 – sales were inexplicably much lower in France than anticipated. A red-faced marketing team at Toyota was left to shuffle into the boardroom and announce that, perhaps, it had something to do with the phonetic sound of the ‘em air deux’ and its similarity to a well-known French expletive. The logo and name were swiftly changed, in the end to Coupe MR, but damage to the parent brand had been done.
Marketing moguls are united in championing the importance of brand-management and maintaining brand value. It’s a murky world crammed with jargon and debatable strategic approaches, but at its heart is the reality that brand means everything in today’s business world. It might seem like an elusive quality that can’t be defined, but successfully identifying and managing your brand is not just a bonus, it can be a lifesaver. If you can manipulate it to your advantage when you need it most – when trouble is not just knocking at the door, but has made itself a cup of tea and taken a seat at your table – your brand could save your company from going under.
Kevin Roberts, CEO of multinational ‘ideas company’ Saatchi and Saatchi Worldwide, coined the term ‘Lovemark’ to describe a super-evolved brand that emotionally connects with its audience and creates ‘loyalty beyond reason’. Though this might be over-egging the pudding a little, it illustrates the point that identification and emotional response are key achievements of a successful brand, and from it an allegiance or loyalty is formed. That loyalty is like gold dust – get it and customers will stick with your company through thick and thin.
Good times and bad
Brand loyalty does not merely stem from a well-designed, attractive logo. Responses to advertising and marketing strategies can, and often do, create a set of perceived values in consumers’ minds about a company or product.
‘To all intents and purposes, a company’s corporate brand and reputation is one and the same thing. If anything, a brand is seen as something more tangible,’ explains Jane Piper, independent brand consultant at Jane Piper Brand Strategy Consultancy and author of an overview on brand value for Superbrands.
Take the example of M&S, a company that has recently turned around a certain amount of consumer apathy towards its core clothing lines, which had resulted in sales figures plummeting. Stuart Rose took over as CEO and set about making his mark, dropping the Marks & Spencer logo and using the commonly used M&S instead – Marks & Sparks would have been a step too far, perhaps. The success of the ad campaign sporting the slogan ‘What’s your M&S?’ for clothing and ‘This isn’t just food, this is M&S food’ has led to sales fluttering back up again – the chocolate pudding featured on the television advert reportedly produced a 3,000-per-cent increase in sales for the line.
M&S turned things around by reminding consumers of the strong core values that it had built up in the past, drawing on tradition and the notion that it is a national store – a chain that belongs to its customers. In fact, the brand update has been so successful that M&S is now considering a redesign of all of its stores, to be called ‘Your M&S’ if the decision is approved.
History on your side
When it comes to turning customer loyalty to your advantage in tough times, brand tradition is a key weapon in your armoury. Recent research has shown that 65 per cent of consumers viewed ‘tradition’ as the number one factor in giving a brand ‘Britishness’, which is viewed as a positive attribute. Surprisingly, tradition was ranked above both ‘quality’ and ‘trustworthiness’.
As the recent case of Golden Wonder illustrates, historic brand loyalty can be an ace in your hand when the odds are stacked against you. The well-known British crisp brand has managed to lift itself out of trouble despite the administrators being called in at the start of 2006. The strength of Golden Wonder’s brand was so great that the announcement the company had gone under provoked a phenomenal public response.
‘My email inbox was drowned,’ says Ed Jackson, who took over as chief executive at Golden Wonder in early 2003. ‘There was a tremendous nostalgia for the brand, which was viewed as a little, traditional company trying to take on the bigger Walkers empire.’
The company’s trouble mainly stemmed from a fall in its own-label business, making snacks for the likes of Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Tesco and Morrison’s. At one point it had more than 75 per cent of the entire UK own-label sector. By concentrating on producing snacks for others, Golden Wonder had neglected its own brand. So, when the company fell on hard times, it couldn’t turn to its own label for protection and security.
‘When I joined the business, the Golden Wonder brand was shot,’ says Jackson, ‘as very little money had been put into maintaining its value or into advertising for the previous ten years.’
One of the first things to do, he says, to turn the brand around was to rate the brand and analyse its value – vital to help you adopt the right strategy if you find your brand in trouble.
‘One of the problems we identified was that Golden Wonder didn’t look or taste like the powerful, punchy brand that it was claiming to be,’ continues Jackson. So, the company developed a new way of frying the potatoes, changed the oil and employed various methods of making them crunchier, in effect ‘changing the profile of the eat’ to fall in line with the brand reputation as a traditional, flavoursome, no-nonsense crisp. The packaging was changed, TV, radio and outdoor advertising campaigns were run in Scotland and Northern Ireland and Nik Naks even sponsored hit TV show The Osbournes. ‘If I could have done anything differently,’ says Jackson, ‘I’d have been even ballsier than we were.’ The campaign focused on the message of being ‘just a good honest crisp’.
‘In an environment where the brand leaders were having to be very politically correct, we didn’t have to be, as that’s not what people associated with our brand,’ adds Jackson. ‘We could have gone for the slogan “Full fat, full taste” – and maybe we should have.’
Don’t fight perception
Despite many companies salvaging their sales by overhauling their brand identity, sudden changes to a corporate or product image can sometimes be inappropriate. It’s very difficult to pull that off if your product or service has a strong reputation (good or bad) already associated with it. Fighting against consumer perception is never going to be easy. That can lead to brand confusion and is unlikely to turn your fortunes around. Take the much publicised and disastrous re-brand of The Post Office Group to Consignia, which was eventually changed back after countless complaints.
Change all or nothing
Rob Morgan, former marketing director at Golden Wonder, says undergoing an all-encompassing re-brand is not necessarily the answer to your problems. Although during his time at Golden Wonder, the focus was often on the Golden Wonder brand itself, the individual sub-brands – Nik Naks, Wheat Crunchies, Ringos – had a reputation of their own. This could have been confusing for customers. The answer was to include the Golden wonder logo more prominently on all of the packaging while maintaining a strong brand identity for each product.
‘We wanted to get into customers’ consciousness and say that, yes, these are brands that people remember from when they were kids, they are still around and, yes, they are made by Golden Wonder.’ Yet, the focus was still on the individuality of each sub-brand as their value outweighed that of the parent company.
Saving a sinking ship
However, fundamental problems with a business aren’t likely to be fixed just by reinventing its brand identity. As Jane Piper explains, ‘It depends on your definition of “trouble” as to whether you can re-brand your way out of it. You can’t put a lick of paint on a failing business to pull it out of strife; it could do more harm than good. To assess your options properly you need to have an idea of your brand’s worth as an asset, to help you decide whether you’re better off re-branding or protecting the brand you’ve already established.’
She cites a quote from business advisory group KPMG – ‘For many businesses, the strength of their brands is a key driver of profitability and cash flow’ – adding that recognising the intangible and commercial importance of these assets ‘will reinforce this message’.
‘Putting a “value” on your brand is to put a value on your reputation. You therefore need to be able to assess the likely damage that could be done to your company if your brand loses value. This is the real driver for evaluating whether or not to realign your brand in the first place and can avoid costly off-the-cuff re-branding.’
Some brands clearly aren’t as much of a valuable asset as you might expect, if the famous name re-brands planned for 2006 are any indication. Tens of millions of pounds are being poured into re-christening NTL/ Telewest as Virgin and rebranding broadband provider Wanadoo as Orange. Consumers may be forgiven for feeling a little confused. Having been bombarded with brand messages about the advantages offered by Wanadoo, for example, now it seems these benefits have become irrelevant and the brands are being scrapped without explanation. It raises the question of why brands matter at all if they can be eradicated at the drop of a hat.