"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Monday, October 13, 2008,6:52 PM
Why brands die?
Harish Bijoor

Why do brands die? Here's a post-mortem.

AS I don the mantle of Brand Doctor on the prowl and follow a peripatetic lifestyle that has me in the treacherous bylanes of Ho Chi Min city one fine morning and the lovely tree-lined streets of Fort Kochi on another, there is just one big question brand-patients ask. A big question big brands ask when on the stretcher: "Why am I dying?"

Brands don't talk. Though I wish they could! They would tell you, the brand manager, many a tale. Many a tale of static-state thinking and much of the mystery of quick or slow brand death unravelled!

Big brand owners come to me at various stages in the life cycle of the brand. Some visit me even as they are in the process of planning the brand. They want me in as an active participant with the internal brand management team in place. This is the concerned CEO who believes the brand is an absolutely important entity to his organisation. His belief: The brand is much too important to be managed by Brand Managers!

A bit of a hit to the slender ego of the brand manager of a typical organisation, I must say! But many brand owners do this. Harry Bo in Hong Kong, who is just about to plan a family of brands in the realm of the semi-conductor business on a B2B format, is one such. Long live his tribe!

Some call six months after launch. The initial enthusiasm of the new cookie brand's launch is over. The brand has hit the market and the high decibel media campaign has run through its first thrust of activity. The first month's volumes were good. Initial brand placement was excellent. So was the initial enthusiasm and morale of both the brand and sales management teams. Something went wrong thereafter. The competition reacted. Engel Harrison reacted as well. Engel wants his brand of Engel cookies to figure in the ranks of the top two cookie brands in the German market. This is just not likely to happen if the current brand status of 16 amidst 18 local players is any indication! Time to call in the brand doctor. The witch doctor even! Whatever might help!

And some call when it is all well nigh nearly over! The brand is on the stretcher. Time to order the coffin and get that difficult reservation in the tiered graveyard of brands that died a premature death. Wonder why they even call me? I guess they just want to hear it from the doctor. There is just no hope. Pull out the support systems and let it go!

The big question then. Why must brands die at all? And why do they die?

The answer is a simple one! Brands never die. There is just no organic death in the life cycle of brands. In fact, there is just no life cycle at all! Let's bury this brand-ism once and for all! Brands are meant to live on forever. Brands don't die. Instead, they are murdered by Brand Managers. The over-zealous and the lazy ones alike! Most of the time done to death by stubborn brand-folks who just don't see the future unravelling!

One common thread I see in brands that actually die on the cushy laps of their emotional brand owners is their inability to embrace change. The lack of flexibility to adapt and adjust to a changing market scenario that is as unpredictable as ever! Brands traverse the trajectory of slow death as soon as rigidity in their management styles step in. And there are many styles equally guilty of forcing their brands onto the track of death ... near or distant!

Some styles, then: The all-knowing style of them all! Brand managers who think what they picked up twenty years ago in their generic Kotlers and in the early days when they grabbed their first David Aaker still holds! These are people living in the archives of brand history. These are folks who still believe in concepts such as Brand Loyalty and rigid Brand Positioning (despite the mind being such a dynamic and maverick piece of equipment yet to be understood).

Brand Management is as dynamic a subject as any. It is as dynamic in its changes, as is society itself. Brands need to change and adapt to their customers and consumers. They need to be in sync with the psyche of their target segment. Rigid brand mangers are the biggest liability to the brand.

The solution: Keep changing them every 18 months for a start!

The second brand sin is perpetuated by the jumpy brand manager who wants to prove a point. The guy knows for sure he is a short-tenure resource on the brand. He is young and raring to go. He has read enough of the brand's mystique. He now wants to leave his indelible mark on the brand he is slated to handle.

Right from Day One, he is on the go. He market-researches and wants to march fast. The pack will need to be changed. The BPS (brand positioning statement) needs tinkering, the advertising needs an overhaul! He will want to bring in 82 different changes in the brand before he goes! This guy is equally dangerous to the health of your brand. He might as well come with a statutory warning. Brands are too serious a company resource to be subjected to wanton change of every kind. Change there must be. But every change must be well thought out. If the brand needs no change during his tenure, so be it. If the market ratifies satisfaction, the brand manger may come and go, without being able to add a single notch to his credit on the brand tree he nurtures! Remember, these wanton notches could be detrimental to the health of the tree in the medium and long run!

The intelligent brand manager of the future is the guy who sits between these two points of action and inaction. He is one who knows his strengths and his gaps alike. He is therefore the sutradhaar who knits the purpose of the brand and its longevity together by bringing to the brand party every resource that he deems necessary. Bring in that sociologist who will give you a quick perspective of how society is morphing, bring in that practising psychologist who will psycho-analyse your consumer of today and hopefully tomorrow! Bring in the holistic market researcher who will look beyond the tools that are quantitative, qualitative and eventually a cusp of the two! Bring in the dentist and the tailor if necessary!

Brands die due to neglect. Due to a lack of accepting change. Due to stubborn, age-old thoughtsManaging brands is an art, a science ... and a philosophy as well! Practise each of these with perfection and humility!

(The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.)


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