Distribution factors - Strategic Brand Management

The relationship with a distribution channel can be a factor of decline if the brand does not live up to the new expectations of it. Because companies such as l’Oréal developed particular brands for supermarket distribution, such as Plénitude for cosmetics, Vichy’s status in the field of pharmaceuticals is under threat. Consumers who go to a chemist shop to buy such products expect from them a higher level of quality as befits the laboratory guarantee.

But over time, Vichy had become a generalist brand more focused on life-style than scientific quality. It found itself, in 1995, carrying products which no longer corresponded with the products which consumers wanted to buy in a chemist shop. Vichy’s survival was contingent upon a qualitative upgrade of all its products and its repositioning on the benefit of better health through the skin.

Other brands have collapsed because they have allowed themselves to become trapped in a declining distribution network. The recent rise of large liquor stores in Japan, at the expense of small convenience outlets, has caused the immediate decline of all the brands lacking a sufficient level of public awareness. In small outlets, they did not need it: the store owner pushed the brand, sold it to his clients. In modern distribution the brand has to sell itself, it needs market pull.

Weak communication creates a distance

Finally, communication can accelerate the decline of brands. Beyond the obvious fact that ceasing to advertise means ceasing to exist in the market and ceasing to be a key actor, the sensible management of communication consists of modernising the signs, but keeping the essence.

If the daughter brands are too much in the spotlight, the mother brand can be adversely affected and give the impression that it is in decline. This happened with Dim, a Sara Lee hosiery brand. Although the brand was by far the main advertiser in its hosiery market, and even in the textile market in general, it seemed to be declining, less active. Such an imbalance between the actual share of voice and the feeling of loss of energy felt by the market worried the management of the Sara Lee group.

In fact, the diagnosis was clear: the promotional tactics of the daughter brands had been carried so far that they had fragmented Dim’s image. Indeed, it was appropriate to clarify Dim’s wide range by attributing names to different products which did not propose the same customer benefits, hence the appearance of Sublim, Diam’s and other lines. On the other hand, this measure produced a dispersion of the Dim image, even the disappearance of Dim to the benefit of the daughter brands.

The first symptom of this condition was the packaging. There was no longer any homogeneity between the different packagings, and the mother brand appeared in a minor endorsing role in variable places. Moreover, in the context of the organisational change, further divisions had been introduced (tights, lingerie, men’s items). Unfortunately, there was no longer anybody in charge of coherence between the divisions and of the defence of the Dim mother brand’s capital.

Finally, since the Dim logotype only appeared clearly on bottom-end products and was concealed on advanced products, this increased the perception that its quality had declined. At the same time, the market was moving towards opaque tights, a more durable and more top-end product, which could easily make Dim the symbol, not of today’s woman, but rather of a poor quality.

In order to correct these dangerous impressions, Dim undertook to increase the added value of all its products, including the basic product, to upgrade all its packagings, to return the status of source-brand by replacing the first-name brands under a visible umbrella, and to clearly advertise ‘Dim presents the new Diam’s’ instead of ‘This is the new Diam’s by Dim’. (This example illustrates, in passing, a tendency which is fatal for a brand: its systematic distance from the best new products, thereby confining it to an offer which is static, obsolete or old-fashioned.)

To complete the story, it should also be mentioned that, in parallel with the excessive exposure of the daughter brands, the Dim brand had been extended to leisure and indoor clothing. This created an added danger for the brand, that of dilution. By leaving its field of competence (everything which is worn close to the body) to enter the sector of regular clothes, its added value became less tangible. The existence of clothes with a Dim label without any tangible added value could only raise doubts about the brand’s actual contribution, not only in this new market, but also in its basic markets: tights and lingerie.

So, in the context of Dim’s renewal plan, an end was put to this extension, which was causing the dilution of the brand’s capital. The priority was to return Dim to the field in which it was recognised to have expertise. The history of ready-to-wear clothes contains too many examples of brands which have abandoned their initial concept to experiment with new extensions and so lose their identity. This has been the case with Newman, which can no longer be associated with a typical product, of Marlboro Classics which has moved away from its founding style, and so on.

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