Secret Marketer: When deciding whether to kill off a brand, remember it exists because of emotions

The decision to terminate a brand or give it new life should always be made for commercial reasons but sometimes it’s worth reflecting on the type of life the brand has had.

Last week, I had the unenviable task of attending the funeral of a relative from my wife’s side of the family. Alas, I am at that stage of life where I attend more funerals than marriages or christenings.

Anyway, it went as well as can be expected, but as I sat there contemplating the meaning of life, I began to think about the association between death and the demise of a brand.

I have done a lot of mergers and acquisitions work in my life; I have been taken over, I have merged and I have taken over other brands. In each case, my primary thought has always been the commercial imperatives: asset stripping and cost synergies, with only a passing concern for retaining the loyalty of customers, and very rarely worrying about the employees’ feelings for the ‘late’ brand.

However, when you think about it, most brands evolve over time. From the first few weeks when the name is agreed and the branding agency’s first logo concepts, to when the first marketing director presents the initial campaigns to the board. Are these not akin to
a baby being born, getting its first teeth and taking its first steps?

As the brand matures, employees come and go, people fret about product launches and worry about media interviews. Staff attend job interviews and go to leaving parties, the brand is tweaked, new agencies are selected and arguments ensue over the size of the marketing budget. Celebrations follow as sales targets are met and awards are won at industry events. Does this not sound like teenagers coming of age: passing driving tests, taking exams, going to university and landing their first job?

Through all of this, most brands are made up of people – employees, agency partners and customers. Many of them will come and go, while others will stay with the brand through its highs and lows. Are they not like the family and friends of the departed; the people who lived with the deceased through all their ups and downs, in the same way a brand goes through highs and lows?

Whether you are a brand owner or an agency, at some point in your career you will be faced with the choice of terminating a brand or giving it new life. These decisions should always be made for commercial reasons, but sometimes it is worth reflecting on the type of life a brand has had — and most importantly the people it has touched. Before you turn off a brand’s life support, pause for a second to think about all the people who have loved it, nurtured it and been frustrated by it. At the end of the day, brands exist because of emotions — we should remember that.

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  1. A really valid point, for me too often, underperforming brands, are ditched without real thought. It often just needs some real understanding of the original DNA that made it successful in the first place and then modernising it to make it relevant to a new era. Lucozade, probably being the best case study in this regard. They moved from a drink that made ill people feel better, to a healthy drink that helped sports people feel better. Taking an underperforming asset and giving it a very successful second life, that is real marketing.

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