Jonathan Earle: Don’t dilute your ‘brand magic’ in order to broaden appeal

Jonathan Earle

It’s a common story: company is born, brand is unleashed, key customer groups whose needs aren’t being met elsewhere are targeted and before too long word of mouth spreads. It’s a beautiful moment and something that all entrepreneurs dream of.

But that’s just the beginning. With success comes increased pressure. Venture capitalists and the company board become more heavily involved, expectations are set even higher and new management teams come in to take the brand to the next level.

When compromises are made the direction of the business is altered which means the original target audience may well lose interest. That’s when the pressure really starts. Even more cooks (aka consultants) look to ‘help’ resulting in further chipping away at what made the brand famous and before too long the one-time ground-breaking brand becomes just another name that used to be amazing.

Take Abercrombie & Fitch. All the things that made it stand out initially have vanished. Whether you like the brand and agree with its approach or not, the comments of former CEO Mike Jeffries who said the company only wanted certain types of people to wear its clothes, and the half-naked models, loud music and low lighting that made the in-store experience more like going to a nightclub than a retailer are the things that made the brand famous and created its ‘coolness’.

Fast-forward a few years, following a number of profit warnings and lots of head scratching at head office, and what have you got? Another Banana Republic, another Gap or any other generic clothing brand you care to mention. The magic has been lost.

The same is true of Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK). When it first opened its doors it was fresh, exciting, noisy, different, tasty and packed. But since then the menu has changed (bit by bit), the milkshakes are no longer delivered in their silver holders, the chocolate chips have got smaller and the burgers are just that little bit less exciting so competitors are gaining ground. Couple that with the consumer shift towards more healthy food options and that brand could be in trouble.

In a world where there is so much choice the need to stand out is essential so holding your nerve is more important than ever. It might be easier said than done but sticking to what makes you famous is the magic dust.

Don’t be greedy, fight the ‘one small change won’t make a difference’ syndrome, be customer focused, and stay true to your values and purpose because your customers will know. They may not tell you before it’s too late but they know.

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I subscribe to the daily blog by Seth Godin that often hits a chord with me. It’s not often I disagree with the sage. A recent post of his, ‘Preparing For A Shark Attack’ argued that when it comes to presenting it’s better to focus on the things you can influence rather than dwell on the unlikely event you forget your lines. It’s not an approach I subscribe to.

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