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Posts Tagged ‘fix my brand’

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.)

Priority Number One: Securing the right partnership.

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 they are saying. If they strike a note with you, then it’s time to make contact.

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:

  1. Does this person or firm know what they are talking about? Do they know what they’re doing?
  2. Will this person be able to work with my staff, my bosses, and our outside agencies (PR, ad, etc.)?
  3. Does this person or firm fit into my budget?
  4. Does this person or firm have a specific method for measuring R.O.I. right from the start?
  5. Does this person appreciate the importance of delivering short term results, not just mid-to-long term 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 4 out of 5. You can’t afford to settle for “good enough” with this type of project. Not if you want to get your brand 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 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.

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 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. (Most people nowadays respond better to a multiple choice format.

Here, then, are the four most common scenarios that lead to the distress and eventual death of a brand:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

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 and 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.

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.

Monday, Part 3 of this series 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.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 😉

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From Brand Building to Brand Rescue: What to do when things go very wrong.

Valeria Maltoni posed a great question on Conversation Agent last week: What happens when brands die?

The topic of the specter of brand death – which visits most companies in a state of distress – is one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention, methinks. (Look around. Distressed companies and lackluster brands are everywhere, and they certainly need help.) Symptoms of a dying brand may come in the form of customer attrition, declines in sales frequency or (volume per customer), eroding market share, a negative brand image (as reported through consumer reports, customer feedback and market studies), or even decreasing investor confidence.

The question I guess isn’t so much “how do I make sure my company doesn’t end up in this situation,” but “now that we’re in trouble, how do we keep our sick company or brand from actually dying?”

BrandBuilder conversations usually focus on helping businesses improve their position and reach the next level in their evolution, but what we are dealing with here is an intervention. Emergency care.

In our current economic downturn, this type of discussion might be more relevant than ever: From past experience, I know that helping successful companies become even more successful is great, but where folks like us can really make a difference is in seizing opportunities to partner with businesses that REALLY need expert help today. Especially if you can generate measurable results quickly.

But before this type of rescue/turnaround partnership can take place, managers of distressed brands need to come to terms with reality: Accepting that their brand or company is in trouble. Most companies ultimately fail NOT because they couldn’t be saved, but because their leadership fails to admit that they are in trouble and need help before it is too late. This is the first step in the process.

How do you know when your company or brand is in trouble? Simple: When a preponderance of symptoms from the following list start popping up in your monthly or quarterly executive meetings. The short list:

  • Pricing pressures are eroding your market share (and you can’t seem to reverse the trend without lowering your prices).
  • Consumer preference data indicates that you are no longer either a contender for the top 1 or 2 choices in your product category.
  • Your quarterly net new customer count is either decreasing or stalled.
  • You are seriously contemplating eliminating 5-20% of your workforce to reduce costs.
  • Customer complaints about your brand are increasing. (Quality, service, delivery, etc.)
  • You have lost several of your best (historical) customers in the last 12 months.
  • Your competitors’ products are getting a lot of great press and attention. Yours are not.
  • Your best talent is starting to walk away.
  • You are having a very tough time recruiting talent.
  • You have cut costs by moving your call centers overseas, but now your customer service department is broken.
  • Despite spending an obscene amount of money on marketing, advertising or PR campaigns, your business barely matches your industry’s growth rate. (If you’re lucky.)
  • At least two out of the three cardinal measurements of your sales health (Frequency of sales, Reach of sales and average sales yield) show a flat or decreasing trend YoY.*

* Corporate lingo for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of working on the client side: QoQ = Quarter over Quarter. YoY = Year over Year.

Assuming anyone in your company is actually keeping an eye on any of this. You would be surprised how many companies’ sales managers don’t measure F.R.Y. or monitor historical new customer trending, how many marketing managers have absolutely no idea what is being said about their brands or where, and how many HR managers have their hands tied even when they it becomes clear that they are not winning the talent war.

Some of this can be attributed to managerial denial, sure, but a lot of the blame can also be attributed to two other factors: a) a lack of training or sophistication when it comes to establishing adequate, actionable metrics, and/or b) a lack of resources when it comes to managing these metrics with an eye towards regular course correction.

In order to connect the dots, you have to know how to identify the dots to begin with.

Getting help isn’t about admitting defeat, it is about getting results.

In order to climb out of a hole, you have to realize that you are indeed in a hole to begin with… and that you probably need help getting out. If you can’t think of a solution on your own, it’s time to get someone who knows how to help you dig your way out.

This topic reminds me of the scene in the 1998 movie “The Edge” (“The Wild” for my European readers) in which Anthony Hopkins’ character gets stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with two companions after a terrible plane crash. Alone in the wild, the three pampered city guys find themselves in an against-all-odds survival situation. The question the three characters keep asking each other – and themselves – is simple: How in the world are we going to survive out here? With no rations, no weapons or tools, no winter gear and chased by a relentless man-eating Grizzly, the three men have to rely on each other to make it back to civilization. About mid-way through the story, as their situation seems hopeless, Anthony Hopkins’ character explains to his lone surviving companion something that is absolutely relevant to today’s discussion of brand survival:

– You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.

– What?

– Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.

– And what is that, Charles?

The answer in the movie is “Thinking.” The answer in the case of of rescuing a brand is the same: Thinking. The one difference being that brands don’t die because they get lost in the wilderness. They die because their stewards create an imaginary wilderness around themselves. If you’re a CEO or CMO who hasn’t figured out how to rescue yourself or your brand by now, it’s time to break out the emergency radio or start sending smoke signals. If someone doesn’t come help you get back on track soon, your brand will die, along with your career, and the only reason will have been that you were too ashamed to admit that you needed help.

Yes, brands can and do die of shame as well.

Reaching out for help is a tough sale for a lot of managers and business leaders. It requires them to admit two things they would rather not: 1. This brand is in serious trouble, and 2. I can’t fix this on my own.

The trick is to realize that asking for help is not the same thing as admitting failure. Quite the contrary. Hiring someone to help you fix something for you – or with you – is no different from hiring the best copywriter, salesperson or office manager you can find.

Here’s the thing: We are all too happy to turn to specialists when we need help in every other area of our lives: If we are sick, we go to a doctor. If we have a tooth ache, we go to a dentist. If we are out of shape, we hire a personal trainer. If we have psychological or relationship problems, we hire a therapist. If our dog misbehaves, we hire a dog trainer. We all hire people who can help us improve our lives or who can somehow help us do things we can’t do on our own. Landscapers. Attorneys. Consultants. Mechanics. Dry-cleaners. Interior decorators. Plumbers. Electricians. Life coaches. Nutritionists. Masons. Carpenters. Party planners. Accountants. Financial planners. Repairmen. Whatever. Specialists are there to fill our knowledge and skill gaps. Helping you fix a brand in crisis is no different. It’s just that there isn’t a section in the yellow pages for “brand interventionists”.

Hint: Looking for a brand specialist or marketing firm in the yellow pages is a lot like looking for a job in the wanted ads. Unless you happen to live in 1986, you are looking in the wrong place.

Likewise, looking for traditional marketing firms and ad agencies to fill your needs when it comes to the relatively new problem of brand erosion in today’s complex business world can be a risky endeavor. Old tactics don’t necessarily address new problems – at least not on their own. The toolkit has evolved. If your new advisor’s “ideas” sound awfully familiar, it’s okay to get a second opinion. Even a third. We’ll go into what to look for tomorrow.

Okay, so my brand is failing. I have to do “something.” What are my options?

While many marketing firms and departments are great at building strong brands, many fall short of expectations. It happens. Sometimes, they get too close to the company or the product and lose their ability to look at the big picture. Sometimes, they have been doing the same things for so long that they have lost touch with their customers, with new marketing tools at their disposal, or with consumer trends and tastes. These things happen. It’s just part of doing business. If – not when – this happens to your company and you find yourself in trouble, you basically have four options at your disposal:

  1. Fire your CMO or Marketing department (pretty drastic and rarely the right solution).
  2. Spend more money on the same tactics that have failed, but pretend that you are doing something different (the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time).
  3. Drastically cut your marketing budget. Marketing doesn’t work anyway, right? (You might as well update your resume while you’re at it. This is the worst possible thing you can do in times of crisis. Even worse than firing your CMO.)
  4. Seek professional help to assist your CMO. Not just from a firm or agency that will gladly take your money to take approach #2, but from a firm, agency or specialist who will actually focus on getting measurable and immediate results for you, AND educate you in the process. Rescuing a brand needs to be as much a learning experience for your organization as it is an intervention.

The correct answer, of course, is option #4.

I cannot stress this enough: Do not hire a specialist, firm or agency that will take option #2 to get you back on track. I have seen it happen too many times, and it is the easiest trap to fall into. This will solve nothing, and waste precious resources on your end. Don’t do it.

Tomorrow, we will go over the second step in your brand intervention: Hiring a practitioner or specialized firm, and letting them help you diagnose and clarify the problems facing your brand.

Part 3 of this series will focus on developing a treatment for your brand.

In Part 4, we will go over how to best administer the treatment, and we will wrap it all up in Part 5 with long term strategies to kill the possibility of a relapse.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2: Methods for diagnosing and understanding what is killing your brand.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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