Growing older but not ageing - Strategic Brand Management

Louis Vuitton is 150 years old! It is also the most fashionable luxury brand in Asia. One way of understanding revitalisation is to consider brands that have not ‘aged’. How have they done it? Typically, the brands that have defied the passage of time have adopted a dual logic, as illustrated by Nivea and Lacoste. To follow their example and stay young, a brand must implement three types of initiatives towards the product. These can also be used as a model for relaunching a brand.

Facelifting, reinventing and innovating

The management of a brand involves maintaining the present (what the brand is now) while at the same time working for the future. It is the present that constitutes the source of income and therefore allows the development of the growth products of the future. As shown in Figure below, in order to stay young, a brand must implement three types of initiatives at the same time:

Sustaining brand equity long term: dual management in practice

Sustaining brand equity long term: dual management in practice

  • It must continually modernise the ‘prototype’ in the same way that Nivea introduced Nivea Soft to modernise its basic in the famous metallic blue jar. Nivea Soft is lighter and less greasy, and is marketed in a white jar. Lacoste regularly improves its famous 12 × 12 polo shirt in terms of the quality of the wool, the colours, the sleeves and so on.
  • It must also reinvent the ‘prototype’, just as Lacoste produced a tight-fitting shirt with Lycra since this is how the woman of 2005 liked to dress. It was an immediate hit. For example, imagine a brand of haircare products whose basic product is a lotion. It would certainly have to modernise it in terms of the packaging, and update the formulation. But it should above all consider how today’s customers would want to apply the product. It is quite possible that rubbing a lotion into the scalp is something that is no longer done, even though the product itself is extremely relevant. In this case, another method of application would certainly be the best form of innovation. You only have to think of Nivea, which invented the first spray-on sun lotion.
  • Finally, it must innovate by actively seeking out the trends and behaviour that currently dominate the younger consumer segments, since these are the segments that will generate customer loyalty in the future. To return to the example of the haircare brand, it simply cannot afford not to create new products – which are of course in line with its brand contract. Young people are mad about hair gels, styling products and hair colour. These markets certainly exist already, but the brand can create new segments within these markets that work in its favour.

Actively seeking out new types of behavior means opening up to the idea of exploring new distribution channels, since new behaviour is often linked to new places and situations.

These innovations also provide an opportunity to launch new and truly groundbreaking publicity campaigns, both in terms of their basic structure and especially their style. In this way, the brand sends out clear signals that it is reinventing itself. At the same time, these campaigns aim to launch the business of these innovations, just as they would for any new product.

Detecting the symptoms of ageing brands

Brands are built by the sum of all their behaviours creating value at contact points with customers. This is why brands should regularly monitor their behaviour. There are many sure symptoms of a brand dropping off, and they can be grouped into seven main types.

Insufficient preparation for the future

  • Insufficient rate of new products in the yearly sales.
  • Low rate of patent registration.
  • Low rate of trademark registration (a sign of little need to name new products and services).
  • Insufficient investment in R&D, in market sensing, in trend spotting.
  • Insufficient knowledge about new uses and new emerging situations of use.
  • Date of the last executive committee meeting to address these issues.

Insufficient dual management

  • Insufficient knowledge about nonconsumers, modern consumers, tomorrow’s consumers.
  • More and more sales to a reduced number of clients.
  • Following the demands of existing clients, not foreseeing the changes in the market.
  • Slow but regular increase of the average age of clients.

Insufficient capacity to capture growth pockets as they emerge

  • Thinking the brand only through its historical product, without being ready to capture emerging new materials and demands.
  • Excessive vision of what is called brand coherence, thus limiting the types of extensions to be made by the brand.

Insufficient relevance

  • Weakening of the present positioning and values.
  • Weakening of the way values are materialised.
  • Date of the last customer satisfaction questionnaire.
  • Date of the last interview with lost customers.
  • Increase in proportion of customers declaring they are ‘moderately satisfied’.
  • Date of the last blind test.
  • Lowering rate of repeat purchase.
  • Decrease in spontaneous awareness (saliency).
  • Decrease in number of spontaneous press quotes.

Insufficient vitality at contact

  • Lack of regular updating of the quality of the logo and visual symbol of the brand.
  • Date of last change or facelift for the packaging (design, ergonomics).
  • Lack of regular facelifts for stores or concessions.
  • Lack of organised merchandising, lack of plans to regularly rethink it.
  • Lack of service (call centres, websites and so on).
  • Lack of brand proximity marketing.
  • Lack of advertising.

Insufficient self-stimulation

  • Lack of curiosity.
  • Lack of desire to surprise.
  • Lack of PR events.
  • Lack of contacts with new opinion leaders, with the press.

Insufficient staffing

  • Lack of young managers.
  • Sex imbalance among executives (100 per cent male or 100 per cent female).

Back to the future

Often a brand’s decline is tied to forgetting the brand’s mission. Little by little small adjustments have been added to the strategy, and cumulatively they have led the brand astray. This is how heavy discounters become less heavy discounters, luxury brands become less luxurious, feminine brands become less feminine and so on.

‘Back to the core’ is a classic revitalising strategy. It does not mean being obsessed with the past, but if the early vision and mission are still valid, trying to come back to it while acknowledging that the product itself may need to be updated.

Many groups act preventively by regularly checking the relevance of their identity and the fact that the operations are actually in line with this strategy. For instance, at Decathlon, as soon as operating margins get higher, the alarm bell rings.

Decathlon’s deep culture focuses on making people happy through sport and physical activities. This is achieved through a remarkable policy of providing own brands with the best performance/price ratio on the market. Higher margins seem to indicate that this ratio is becoming less exceptional than it should be.

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