When should companies allow declining, aging brands to finish their lifecycles? When should they opt to revitalize them? These are hard questions for companies in view of fast-changing consumer demands, increasing global competition, and diminishing awareness of heritage brands among younger consumers.

Many CMOs feel that brands follow irrevocable life stages: they are born, mature, plateau, and eventually decline and die. Generally, companies that witness declining brands in their portfolios employ the "best business practice" of cutting marketing investments in them, and reallocating the dollars on growth brands instead. Without any marketing support, declining brands continue to wither away and die. Yet, with the heavy investment necessary to launch new brands and products, companies seem to be interested in the revitalization of diminishing brands more than ever.

How can companies determine whether to revitalize brands? Consumer research plays a vital role in this process. Mature brands have great heritage and might still be enjoyed by consumers who have had positive, longstanding relationships with them.

By surveying these consumers, you can mine the following data:

  • What are the points of differentiation, or unique selling proposition of the brand, per their perception?

  • What are the brand's Enjoyment assets™? How many pleasant associations and experiences have consumers had with the brand?

  • What are the negatives, if any, associated with the brand?

  • What is the perceived value of the brand?

  • Is the perceived value of the brand still active, or is it dormant? How does it stack up against the brands in those same categories?

  • How relevant is the brand?

  • What, in the consumers' perception, can the brand do for them to add value or more desirable attributes?

  • How much loyalty is there to the brand?

Mature brands tend to be supported by few marketing initiatives. Thus, these brands are "out of sight, out of mind" for many consumers. Consumer mind share translates to market share, thus companies that choose to revitalize brands must commit to developing comprehensive marketing programs. This will result in heritage customers' recalling the brand, and getting them to purchase its products again. It will also begin to create brand awareness among new consumers.

Once a sound decision has been made to revitalize, brand managers can make subtle or sweeping changes to the corporate brand, products, packaging, or all three.

Three Kinds of Revitalization

  1. Revitalization can require the rebranding of a company from the inside out.

  2. Revitalization can involve updating the brand's products and product attributes with better, demanded features.

  3. Revitalization can require repackaging for a more contemporary brand image to appeal to new generations of consumers.

A striking example of corporate and product revitalization is Cadillac. An iconic American automobile brand, Cadillac started dying a slow death in the past few decades with its stodgy image and lack of consumer relevance. Mature, affluent luxury cars buyers were buying Mercedes and BMWs. Enter in the Escalade—a powerful SUV loaded with plenty of edgy urban appeal—for an affluent, young, hip audience that is willing to shell out $60,000, on average, to drive one! Once a dying brand, Cadillac is now a 21st century, urban symbol.

Arm & Hammer cleverly rejuvenated its products and brand, when the slowdown in home baking adversely affected sales, by emphasizing its two greatest attributes: the cleaning, deodorizing properties of its core product. By demonstrating myriad uses for baking soda in the home, Arm & Hammer turned its business around, then it leveraged its brand into oral care and laundry care categories. The 150-year-old brand continues to enjoy great heritage, even as it attracts new and ever-younger generations of consumers.

Brand Revitalization and Packaging

Myriad CPG brands are constantly being revitalized, and repackaged, to contemporize them for new generations of consumers and to ensure companies' continuing growth in equity. Food and HBA brands are masters at revitalization.

When sales slowed on the venerable 40-year-old Head & Shoulders shampoo brand, P&G decided to revitalize. Consumers can still purchase the classic formula, or meet more cosmetic-oriented needs with reformulated SKUs that guarantee extra fullness, dry scalp care, or intensive treatment. With its revitalization, P&G now says that Head & Shoulders has broader appeal among more consumers. The CPG giant also designed contemporary packaging, reduced package size, and set a higher price point for additional anti-dandruff ingredients to give the repositioned heritage brand the same presence as a salon formula line rather than that of a basic, utilitarian product.

Snack food giant Frito Lay revitalized its product line recently by eliminating trans fats (in the form of hydrogenated oils). The company then revitalized the packaging of its extensive line to make the "0 grams Trans Fats" very prominent on the upper right hand corner of every product package. Touting the use of whole grains in a number of its products helps the company fulfill its commitment to deliver tasty snacks that are more healthy and nutritious.

Contemporizing Packaging the Right Way

CPG companies feel the pressure to repackage with more frequency now than in years past. It's important to keep product packaging contemporary to appeal to core customers, while attracting new ones:

  • It is vital to retain brand heritage and equity. The strengths of the mature brand should be leveraged when repackaging.

  • Consumer research uncovers the brand drivers, some of which are latent when products have been in the marketplace for decades.

  • Research enables the brand identity/package design expert to make certain the brand and product core assets and differentiators are firmly in place.

Since a brand's packaging is its most enduring and accessible brand communication vehicle, it must convey the brand experience through the package design system. The brand's packaging must be a synergistic part of the overall brand expression continuum. Recognizable, trusted brands in visually appealing, stimulating packaging have a distinct advantage in a sea of product sameness, in category after category.

Bottom line: Periodic corporate brand revitalization is an essential component of brand management. Product revitalization gives new relevance to what could have been perceived as tired, aging consumer goods. Finally, revitalized packaging allows a CPG company to communicate its realigned core brand, prioritize its communication hierarchies and share its core assets fully with customers, creating an emotional bond.

Nothing continues to build on the brand's heritage and equity with more power than that.

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image of Ted Mininni

Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni