In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what it takes for business managers and CMOs to come to accept that their brand is in trouble. We also discussed why it is often difficult for them to admit that they need help, and how to get over that fear-driven reflex.
Today, we are going to look at the next step in fixing a broken or distressed brand: Diagnosing the problem – which usually involves hiring a specialized firm, agency or individual with the skills, insight and experience to help you navigate through this crucial step. (If you screw this one up, everything that comes later is based on either false or incomplete assumptions – or both, so this isn’t a part of the process you want to entrust just anyone with.)
I apologize in advance if what we discuss today seems… really basic. If your brand is doing great, you probably already know this stuff. It’s common sense. It’s unlikely that you’ll learn anything new here today. But for those of you with tanking brands, going back to basics is where you need to start, so here we go:
Priority Number One: Securing the right partnership.
We’ve established that performing surgery on yourself while you’re crashing probably isn’t the best idea. You probably want to look into hiring outside help to guide you through the steps and make sure your brand rescue doesn’t end up in a complete ass-backwards disaster. (Remember that you didn’t get in trouble by being particularly good at making all the right decisions: Be humble, be smart, put your ego(s) aside, and hire a professional.)
How do you find the right person or firm? Well, once you’ve established that they aren’t in the yellow pages, you ask around. If that doesn’t work, hit the marketing and brand development blogs. Find out who the practitioners are. It’s a small community. There may only be 100 such individuals or organizations in North America, so you won’t be overwhelmed with choices. Once you’ve narrowed down your search to this level, read their blogs and e-books. Look into what they have done for other companies, who they’ve worked with, and what kinds of recommendations they are getting. If they strike a note with you, then it’s time to make contact. If not, keep looking.
Ideally, they will be in your part of the country, but if they aren’t, that’s okay too. Business travel is a part of life nowadays, and collaborative tools make it easier than ever to work remotely as well. As the world keeps getting flatter, distance becomes less relevant each day. What is most important is finding the right fit.
Speaking of fit, here are a few questions you will want to ask yourself during the interview process:
- Does this person or firm know what they are talking about? Do they know what they’re doing? Or is all that chatter just posturing?
- Will this person be able to work with my staff, my bosses, and our outside agencies (PR, ad, etc.), or be a giant pain?
- Does this person or firm fit into my budget?
- Does this person or firm have a specific method for measuring our improvement and performance right from the start?
- Does this person appreciate the importance of delivering short term results, not just mid-to-long term results?
- Is this person there to sell me services, or actually deliver results?
I can’t stress this enough: You want every question to be answered by a resounding YES. If your brand is in distress, 3 out of 5 won’t cut it. Not even 5 out of 6 You can’t afford to settle for “good enough” with this type of project. Not if you want to get your brand/company back on track now and… well, actually save it.
This is your litmus test for separating a good firm, agency or practitioner from the right one for your current situation.
And if you’re lucky, the one you pick won’t already be booked solid for the next six months. (Cross your fingers.)
Beginning the diagnostic process: Finding out what is actually eating away at your brand.
Okay. Now that you’ve partnered with the right talent (hopefully) and everyone has gotten acquainted, it’s time to get busy. The process typically begins with an immediate 360-degree analysis of your business and of your industry: Who buys your stuff and why? Who buys your competitors’ stuff and why? Who loves you and why? Who hates you and why? How do you engage with your customers? How are you not engaging with your customers? Which marketing tactics work for you and which ones don’t (and why)? If you used to be the market leader once, what changed? What do your employees think about your company and your products? How does this impact core aspects of your business like innovation, talent retention and sales? The list goes on, but you get the idea. Common sense stuff right? You would think. Except if your brand is in the tank, none of this may be all that obvious to the people making decisions, is it.
The trick here is two-fold: 1) You have to know what questions to ask, which isn’t always obvious when you are knee-deep in running a business every day, and 2) You have to understand exactly how to measure performance (including but not limited to R.O.I.) and put the data in the right context for each one of these elements. This type of brand mapping is one of the key components of the diagnostic step. We’ll get more into some of these in Part 3 of the series. (Like a puzzle, the analysis is composed of MANY parts, but don’t worry: It isn’t that hard to put it all together fast if you know how.)
For now, let’s tackle the first layer of the onion. The question here is simple: If you could boil down your brand’s problem to a thirty-second assessment, what would it be? To make it easy on you, I have listed the four most common answers below. There are more, but let’s keep it simple.
Here, then, are the four most common scenarios that lead to the distress and eventual death of a brand:
- Fading brand Relevance: Many companies either go through severe downturns in relevance. Maybe you were the “it” company in your market ten years ago, but fresh newcomers have shoved you aside. Maybe you’ve grown too big and complacent. Maybe you have lost touch with your customers’ needs and fans’ expectations. In these cases, a weakened brand can drag a business down and kill it.
- Failure to achieve brand relevance: Many companies simply never manage to transition from being a business with a logo to being an actual brand. They just haven’t found their voice yet. Their purpose. Their place. They are little more than an “also in” company. They manage to scrape by, but with budgets shrinking and new players gaining market share, time is running out.
- Brand implosion: You talked a good game, created inspiring and engaging marketing and PR, got people all excited about you… but you didn’t keep your promises. Customers are outraged. Your name is mud. Your customers are leaving you for your competitors. Game over?
- Brand-rich, cash-poor: Everyone loves your products and what you stand for. Your customers (fans) have made you part of their lifestyle and you get fantastic reviews across the board. Still, the balance sheet is in the red and you can’t keep your business afloat. Maybe you’re upside down on business loans, or your next round of funding dried up. Maybe your P&L is a disaster, or your parent company has lost interest in you. Whatever the case may be, your business is dying in spite of having created a true lovebrand. How do you save yourself?
In some cases, a sick brand may be looking at more than one of the above problems (most likely a coupling of either #1, #2, or #3 with #4).
More often than not, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out which of the above issues an ailing brand is dealing with. That being said, beware the hasty assumption: One symptom or scenario can hide another and distract you from your problem’s root cause. (One of the most immediate benefits of a properly administered 360 analysis is that it will either confirm or re-frame that initial assumption for you.)
Example: Company XYZ’s leadership is convinced that they are in situation #1 (fading brand relevance), and at first glance, they appear to be right. But as the 360 analysis starts to take shape, it becomes clear that the reason why the brand’s relevance has been fading for the last six years is because their customers are angry about a number of things, like inconsistent product quality, lousy customer service and frustrating warranty/exchange policies. Brand XYZ is actually in a #3 scenario (brand implosion), not a #1 scenario. The message got muddled because company XYZ hasn’t done a very good job at listening to its customers’ opinions (which is a topic we will revisit in the next couple of installments). The lesson here is obvious: One very nagging symptom can easily distract everyone and hide the true cause of a brand’s woes. Fail to render the correct diagnosis the first time, and your entire treatment will be worthless. This kind of mistake so late in the game can cost a brand a lot more than just time and money.
Note from the above example that if your brand practitioner only lives in the Marketing world, his/her usefulness will be… limited. A 360 analysis involves every department in the company, not just marketing (or traditionally “brand” related) functions.
Just like a good doctor makes sure to treat the disease rather than the symptoms, an experienced brand practitioner knows how to properly diagnose and treat the root cause of a distressed brand’s troubles as opposed to its more superficial problems.
Cause and Effect: Starting the process of connecting the dots.
As an added layer of complexity, brand practitioners don’t just have to concern themselves with the what and how questions, but also the why: “Why is this brand failing? Why are this company’s customers jumping ship? Why is its customer service so lousy? Why are its products not as popular as they once were? Why has the main topic of conversation shifted from design and user delight to price? This is the next layer of the 360 analysis: For every action, there is a reaction. If we can identify the reactions (sales slumping, customers switching to a competitor’s product, increases in returns or warranty claims), we can work our way back to the actions that brought them about. It takes a little bit of detective work, but the beauty of the 360 analysis mechanism is that it makes the process pretty swift.
As a bonus, the action-reaction relationships can be pretty easily mapped for the client. As we’ll see in Part 5 (making sure the brand doesn’t suffer a relapse), this mapping/clarifying process actually being delivered and taught to the client is absolutely fundamental to the success of any brand rescue endeavor: Once business managers fully understand the relationship between their customers’ behaviors and decisions made internally by their management team, they will be able to make inspired choices and effective course adjustments on their own once the brand practitioner is gone. A big part of helping a brand recover from a serious crisis involves teaching its stewards how to take better care of it in the future so it never happens again.
A Common Pitfall before we adjourn.
Far too many firms, agencies and consultants settle for a two step process in helping a client address a problem: Step 1 – Identify the problem. Step 2 – Address the problem with a specific solution: A new ad campaign. A new series of press releases. A new promotional campaign. Prettier packaging. A celebrity endorsement. This works well enough if you’re looking for a quick fix. A band-aid, if you will. But as soon as the campaign is over, as soon as the promotion ends, as soon as the big sale is over or the expensive celebrity spokesperson moves on to their next gig, what have you really gained? You may have enjoyed a spike in interest, a spike in sales, even, but you end up right where you started: Condemned to keep the campaign engine running constantly, which in your case may be little more than slapping lipstick on a pig. If your brand finds itself in a state of distress, chances are that you have already been playing this game for a while. We’ve already been over this in Part 1. More of the same isn’t what you want.
In order to see real traction, you have to go a step further in the process: Not just identifying a problem, but understanding what created it to begin with. Understanding the root cause. Understanding the why. Tracking the actual cause of that 7% drop in sales. That 12% drop in market share. That 30% drop in customer retention. You have to look deeper. You have to be able to map cause and effect, and answer not only what and how, but why. Then and only then, can you move on to the next step: Coming up with real solutions – the kind that will help your brand gain real momentum – rather than buying sales and influence for an all too finite amount of time.
Next week, in Part 3 of this series, we will go over how to use the 360 analysis employed during the diagnostic phase of the process to a) develop a treatment to get your brand back on track, and b) prioritize the elements of this treatment to start enjoying results immediately.