Death of a Brand

Ever wondered how many brands of products that you grew up hearing about in advertisements on television or radio still exist? Why aren’t all of them still around? During my childhood (1980s) I recall hearing many radio advertisements daily about brands ranging from clothing to medicines to soft drinks and cars. Not sure if the readers of this blog would remember names like Goldspot & Sprint (soft drinks), Bakeman’s (confectionary), Onida & Beltek (televisions), Santogen & Mayur (textiles), Lifebuoy & OK (bathing soaps), Nirma (washing powder) Maggie
(noodles) and many many more.

What happened to all of these brands? Why don’t we still see their names thrown around on billboards or prime time TV or FM slots. Well, to be honest, some brands still exist and are continuing to sell such as Surf, Nirma, Amul to name a few. But the others? They died a slow death. Not just brands from the 70s or 80s, even in recent times brands that existed 10 years ago are not the talk of the town anymore. Remember Nokia and Micromax? Or Ford or GM (in India)?

You’ll agree with me on this – no company would ever like it’s brands to be wiped out from the market. Yet it happens. If you peel off a little more, you would see there are at best two reasons why brands die. Firstly, let’s understand the cycle of brand building. Let’s say you start a company making shampoos for children. Your product has all the attributes like no strong chemical as an ingredient, no adverse
impact on the skin, child friendly fragrance, long lasting effects and so on. Who do you think are your first customers? Parents with infants or young kids, for sure looking for shampoo, Customers who are not happy with their existing brands, Customers who are easily swayed by the salesperson. These customers are first time purchasers..they hardly know anything about your product and much less about you or your company. They are buying on a belief or expectation that this product will serve the purpose well. Note that price is not a big influencer at this stage (when it comes to children’s products, parents usually want the best).

Next, what happens when these customers experience your products. Either they are satisfied with it or not. In the latter case, they rush to buy your competitor’s product. But if they are satisfied, they repurchase your brand and also do something important – tell their friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbors about it. In effect, they become advocates of your brand. These friends, neighbours guided by the praise showered by your first customer buy your product and the brand suddenly but surely starts to get noticed.

A few cycles down the line, you have now a strong loyalist set of customer who will come back to buy your brand, no matter what. You’re on a roll and life’s great. But a few quarters or years later you notice that sales are not picking up. You invest more in marketing, advertisement, sales efforts hoping that it will pay off in higher sales. But nothing works. Your sales slowly head southward and profits plummet since you have invested a lot in marketing and brand building. You hire a consultant but even they cannot steady the ship.

This, my friends, is a very simplified case of death of your brand. Once it reaches this stage it requires a herculean effort to restore its past glory. Why did you let this happen? Three simple reasons.

First, you took your customer loyalty (hence repurchase and word of mouth publicity) for granted. You never talked to them and heard what they had to say. An unhappy customer (even if rare) was ignored by you deeming it statistically insignificant. Second, you didn’t innovate. You thought the same successful product will carry you through. You didn’t tinker with its size, packaging, fragrance or other
attributes. Whereas your competition experimented and found a sweet spot. Last, you didn’t adopt technology. Didn’t think about e-commerce or big data analytics. Are you still surprised that you’re reading this blog while your competition all the way to the bank?

It’s not that all brands of 70s and 80s winded up down a tube. Many are still successful as ever – Surf, Nirma, Kwality Maggie to name a few. Let’s take a look at why they are successful: these companies picked one or two attributes of their product and made it their brand story. Who can forget the Lalitaji advertisement series of Surf? Nirma’s founder Karsanbhai Patel took giant size competitors like
Proctor & Gamble and Unilever head on. He changed the rules of the game by selling a price leading product and targeting the lower middle segment. Management of companies that ran these brands listened to all their customers (not just the happy ones) and made themselves unbeatable at least in one attribute of their product. With passage of time, they even invested in technology to integrate their sales both online and offline in real time.

To me, it’s quite sample. Brands exist because their management listen to the customers and the market. Brands exist due to their customers. Customers don’t exist due to brands. History is fraught with many examples of great companies with world renowned brands being wiped out in virtually no time. So, if you wish to be selling your products under the same brand 50 years from now, please go ahead and make the call to your most disgruntled customers. Trust me, they may be upset but they would internally feel nice that you called them back. See how you can improve upon on your product. There must be (there always is) some attribute that you can improve resulting in your brand jumping ahead of your competitors. Focus of that attribute. Adopt the technology that will help you promote and sell better. Reclaim your old glory.

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