Respecting the brand DNA - Strategic Brand Management

Each brand should be seen as a contract. It binds, promises and engages each side: the company and its clients. The brand expects loyalty from consumers but it must in turn be loyal to them. With time, it is normal that the brand should seek to widen its client base by offering other products and services. In doing so, it communicates more and more on its margins and less and less on its core, on the basic contract.

The source of the current problems of Club Med, which feels it has lost its identity, may also find their source in the forsaking of the founding principles of the brand. However, it was not without reason that the product range was differentiated to fit a particular market segmentation which, as customers were growing older, expected more comfort in the rooms and sometimes wanted to withdraw from the group and not sit down at mealtimes at the famous eight-people tables.

What aged in Club Med’s offer is the value system portrayed in its advertising, and which a part of the population no longer identifies with, in particular its opinion leaders. The concept of ‘happiness’ in groups is a cliché and no longer corresponds to the intense need for meaning expressed by our society. What made the inspired strength of Club Méditerranée was forgotten when the brand was restructured to make it international and renamed Club Med.

Indeed, the Mediterranean Sea is not, as one would think, just a reference to the original location of the vacation villages or to some water sports. It is, on a symbolic level, a source of life. The intense need for Club Méditerranée lies in its brand kernel: to replenish, to find one’s self again. This drive, remarkably transposed in its time by the famous advertising campaign coined by the FCA agency (love, live, play, talk…), has disappeared and does not seem to inspire the current brand any more, as Club Med has become a vacation club like all others, only more expensive than most, and no longer promotes a particular vision.

The pressures that lead a brand astray from the initial contract by little nudges are numerous and create the risk of identity loss. The management of the Paloma Picasso perfume brand is a good example of this. Through the roots of the brand and the creator whose name it bears, this brand symbolises a violent Latin character, the South, a haughty, self-asserting pride.

Its codes of red and black are Latin codes, signs of a strong character, but such an identity creates territorial boundaries for the brand. It is strong in South America, in the Sunbelt in the United States (Florida, Texas, California), and in Europe in all the countries where Spain exerts an attraction (Germany, Great Britain, France).

On the other hand, it has not been able to penetrate the Asian market (where the preference is for pastels, tenderness, softness), or in Oceania, Australia and Scandinavian countries. Hence the question that arose at the launching of the third perfume: should one respect the brand contract – what it has stood for up until now, the basis of its success – or put on the market a softer version?

Revitalising brands also implies the rediscovery of one’s roots. With time, we tend to forget the founding principles accumulating compromise after compromise. The Novotel management called the programme which redefined the orientation of the brand ‘return to the future’. The aim was not to reconstruct the Novotels from the good old days but to take up again the historic mission of the brand, updated to meet the needs of its clients in the year 2000.

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