Russell Parsons: Even iconic brands need to adapt to survive the modern world

There is an often-used phrase in business, “adapt or die”, which is both a rallying call to action and a cautionary tale. Whether it is attitudinal shifts or technological disruption, brands cannot survive just through an emotional connection with the past, so the theory goes.

Russell Parsons

I was reminded of this upon hearing that the NME is to begin distributing its print edition for free. As if that isn’t enough, it is essentially to stop being what it is famous for and that has sustained it for more than half a century – a music title. Instead, it will become a lifestyle magazine, adding film, fashion, TV, gaming and technology content. Bells and whistles will also be added to the relatively successful NME.com.

The rationale behind the move is easy to understand. Circulation has been declining, down to 15,000, according to latest ABC figures, and its once core readership of 15- to 25-year-olds no longer see it as the curator of good taste they once did, preferring YouTube and social media. Elsewhere, Time Out, Short List and the Evening Standard in London have demonstrated that free distribution can revive flagging ad revenue.

It could also spectacularly backfire. Naysaying analysts have warned of the folly of taking what is a niche title and making it free. By giving additional coverage to content other than music, there is also the danger of brand dilution.

Another brand not immune to the vagaries of modern business featured in this issue is Mini. Motoring is becoming ever cheaper and there is more competition from more parts of the world than ever before. Our article details how Mini is reinventing itself. From embracing the emerging ‘sharing economy’ to tapping new thinking by investing in start-up accelerators around the world.

Mini has a strong foundation, sales are increasing at a rapid rate and its brand enjoys the kind of affection and recall most businesses would die for. NME’s task is considerably more difficult.

Both, however, are facing up to what every brand should be preparing for, the need to adapt.

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