Stories of marketing heroes who transform poorly performing brands never fail to enthrall us: the transformation of Dove into an empowering brand; the shift to healthier eating for McDonald's; the rebound of Hewlett Packard in the PC market.

Those are among some recent successes. But they elicit the question: Why do brand leaders wait until their brands are at the breaking point, and at risk of joining such brands as Radio Shack, 7Up, or the GAP... for which renovation may be too late?

Unheralded marketing heroes renovate their brands while they are strong and growing. They spot changing market dynamics and address them as opportunities before they have time to develop into threats. Their reward is faster profitable growth without the negative headlines.

Here are four best-practices in brand renovation identified in our work with businesses across a range of markets.

1. Develop a holistic understanding of the brand

A holistic, customer-driven understanding of the current brand and a vision of the brand's future are crucial to proactive renovators. Typically, a holistic view includes an understanding of the brand's heritage, personality, iconography, functional benefits, emotional benefits, and perceived value in the minds of customers, influencers, and intermediaries.

The key is to understand how each of these groups views the brand in the context of their daily lives and compared with the other things that are on their minds. This view enables proactive renovators to see opportunities to credibly extend the brand and avoid the trap of defining the brand by what the company knows how to make or offer, instead of what customers want to buy.

Crayola has managed to stay relevant despite the digital and graphics technologies that might have threatened its brand's very essence. Its understanding of the brand goes beyond the functional benefits of washable markers or erasable pencils. Crayola's brand leaders understood that colorful fun and creativity best defined its role in the lives of teachers, parents, and children; accordingly, it evolved from an art-products company to a visual-expression company. It moved from being a partner with retailers to a partner with educators, parents, and children.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fred Geyer is a partner with Prophet (www.prophet.com), a global consultancy. He can be reached at fgeyer@prophet.com.