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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is your brand fragile?

Wally Evans, Publisher of Pumps & Systems Magazine and President of Cahaba Media Group, which also publishes Construction Business Owner Magazine, says in a blog posting: Your brand is fragile . . . and temporary.

"Do you still think that a well established brand that leads in industry year after year is virtually impossible to destroy? Or is an unassailable competitor?, he writes. "Think again, and look at General Motors. The world has changed dramatically, and the concept of a "brand", while no less important than it used to be, is now a much more fragile thing."

Just a few years ago, Compaq, Circuit City, Lehman Brothers and Oldsmobile were household names. Today, they are gone. A few others such as AOL, Yahoo, Starbucks and Kodak that were industry flounders and once commanded dominant market share are teetering on the brink of irrelevance.

Why? In some cases, poor stewardship of the brand, or unforeseen industry disruptions or mergers are to blame. Often, it is because the company just sat still while others innovated. But there is also something at work here that is generational in nature. Americans today, especially those under 30, are much less loyal to brand than they used to be, and have a lot more choices than we used to. I think it is a good thing, and reflective of a vibrant, entrepreneurial economy. But it is also a warning to the big, dominant, older brands in any marketplace -- be good stewards of your brand, and don't ever stop promoting it.
I agree with much of what Evans says here. As a rule, if you are in the fortunate position to have a large business and successful brand, you can use many resources to maintain it -- and retain your innovative edge (you have the money for really thorough psychographic research, proper analysis, and careful planning). But I'm not sure that I agree that brands in the true sense are any more fragile than they always were.

If we define brand as trust -- the willingness of people to do business with you because they respect you will deliver what they expect (and more, in positive way), then the issue of brand failure is more the failure of trust on the part of the companies holding the previously successful brands.

And this also is good news for you if your reputation is solid, if (during good times) you could rely 100 per cent on referral and repeat business from a diverse group of clients. Things may be slowing now, but you can, and should, maintain your pricing, while designing effective and inexpensive marketing approaches to improve your business flow and stability. You aren't General Motors, thankfully.

I've set a permalink to Evans' blog.

6 comments:

Ford Harding said...

Mark:

There is ample evidence of brand fragility in the professions, where one's reputation has such influence on who hires you. The obvious is Andersen. Not long ago Index Consulting suffered severe damage to its brand when the firm was caught trying to rig the rating of a book by two of its consultants on best sellers lists.

Brands are hard earned and need protecting.

Happy New Year,

Ford Harding

Mark Buckshon said...

Ford, you are absolutely right -- though I think the brand protecting responsibility is more within the business/profession's values/ethics/principals rather than the marketing department. So if brands are more fragile than before, the implication is that the ethical standards and integrity underlying the basis of brand trust may be more fragile than in the past -- and I'm not convinced things have really gotten any worse than in the bad old days (for example Tammany Hall in New York City.)

Anonymous said...

Mark, thanks for commenting on my blog....

For clarification, I wasn't really talking about ethics of brands. My main points in this are:

1. Compared to twenty years ago, the American consumer has a lot more choices than he used to for an individual thing, and

2. Younger consumers, especially those under 30, have much less loyalty to, and respect for, the long term quality and reputation of a great brand than older generations of consumers.

We see this phenomenon manifest itself among older marketing professionals who work for older brands, and who often feel that they don't have to market as much as others because of the strength of their brands.

Last year, I actually heard a senior marketing executive say, "We don't need to advertise; everyone already knows who we are." Well, not for long. Today's 25 year old junior manager is tomorrow's purchasing executive, and he doesn't care about how your company USED TO have a dominant market share. Especially if he's seen the marketing messages of your competitors more than yours.

This attitude inevitably leads to a situation where a more agressive and nimble competitor makes market share gains.

Happy New Year,

Wally Evans

Mark Buckshon said...

Wally, undoubtedly advertising can help an established brand fend off competitors, if all is in order in the underlying business. But no amount of advertising or lack of it can 'destroy' a brand -- that type of destruction must happen within the inner workings of the business and the break-down of its values and principals. Arthur Anderson, GM and others certainly advertised a lot in previous years, but that didn't save them!
Advertising has a place (and a good one) in brand protection/development for established business as part of the overall picture. The challenge is achieving consistency between the advertising message and the actual client experience; great advertising with a bad experience will sour the brand a whole lot more than not advertising at all.

Mark Buckshon said...

As a further note to my last posting, both my business and Wally's sell advertising for a living. I believe that anyone in the advertising business must also be truly aware of the big picture and advise/recommend strategies that go beyond selling more advertising.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you.

Someone once told me that "Your brand is what people say about your company or product when you are not in the room."

A great experience and product can overcome some weak marketing; but a great marketing program can only forestall the damage done by a crappy product or company.