From the gutter to the stars

Many non-core brands live in limbo, neglected by their owners, but with a little attention they can realise their potential.

With the pressure on companies’ time and financial resources stronger than ever, most firms quite rightly concentrate their investment on key brands. These are the brands that provide the majority of their business and anticipated growth, have strong franchises, can be extended globally though “brand migration” programmes and respond to innovation and brand extension.

Yet what about the also-rans, the brands that don’t fit into the company’s carefully worked-out corporate strategy and yet can’t be dismissed as the runts of the litter? Every marketing director comes across them some time: the latent brands, often caught between the core and the cold, that have potential but don’t look strong enough to justify the time, ideas and resources they would need for a full relaunch.

They are neither stars nor dogs. They are the brands in no man’s land, often well established, selling OK, with decent margins, strong trade and consumer franchises, but unlikely to make great progress. They may not be central to a company or a sector; they may be me-too brands, local or perhaps just too mature.

We believe there could be as many as 3,000 of these secondary entities, which are able to maintain their place in the Championship but have little or no chance of reaching the Premier League. Since they are not performing badly enough to be sold or closed down right away they end up being neglected, run for cash or just run down.

As companies rationalise their portfolios they often underestimate the strategic potential of certain brands on their books and find they do not have the financial resources to investigate that potential. They realise they do not have the resources to deal with the agencies or consultancies involved in the traditional advertising and marketing model. So these brands are left on cruise control or sold for a lower price than could have been achieved by identifying their true worth.

Yet managing decline is not the only possible strategy. Clearly there are boundaries and constraints – they are not going to get the five-year, multi-million pound relaunch plan with lengthy development, roll-out programmes and a three-stage, comprehensive mixed-media schedule.

But that doesn’t mean they should all be neglected. Rather like refurbishing a house, brand revival doesn’t have to cost a fortune if you have people who know what they are doing. A brand can be re-energised, repositioned and re-engineered within existing budgets if the people involved are focused on that project and not plagued by the day-to-day distractions that beset brand and marketing managers.

Increasingly, consultancies like ourselves at StarChamber are focusing on the strategic opportunities and challenges offered by these brands, and are re-engineering to provide the all-round branding services required, in terms of brand strategy, research, innovation, design and marketing communicationsFresh business and brand thinking plus total immersion in the project will produce lateral, innovative solutions. It is a matter of providing the same focus and care that companies give to their core brands but, almost by definition, never devote to those products lower down the hierarchy.

Obviously cost and time are key factors when dealing with brands whose growth prospects are, by definition, limited. So it is essential to use people with experience and talent who can provide radical risk management and momentum within a cost-effective budget. Similarly, discerning consultancies will have the knowledge and expertise to tell the client if the brand is beyond repair.

These limbo brands aren’t limited to one type or size of company. They are lurking everywhere, in global conglomerates and mid-market firms with half a dozen brands and turnover under £100m.

Brand health checks and remedial action are often speedy and cost-effective.

There was a commodity product – a staple food with massive turnover but no brand value to speak of – that became known and valued by the customer and so emerged with a much healthier platform for the future. Or the DIY brand which was redefined to move on to more innovative and profitable products within the sector.

In all these cases the commitment, innovation and lateral thinking provided completely liberated the brands strategically and turned them around. How many other ghost brands are there that would still be alive today if they had received similar care and attention?

• Mary Say is a director of StarChamber

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