WOOLWORTHS. BLOCKBUSTER. NOKIA. BHS. KODAK.
Ten years ago, these brands were household names generating billions of dollars in annual revenue. Today, they’re either extinct – or shadows of their former selves.
The customers moved on, but the companies didn’t. Emails were ignored, advertisements fastforwarded, the sense of collective excitement about their next big product launch replaced by a kind of weary indifference. The end-users’ needs weren’t being met, something better came along, and any authentic connection was finally and forever severed. Where the business once provoked feelings of fondness and excitement, it now triggers the opposite. They call this brand fatigue, and it’s lethal to businesses like yours. It’s easy to feel safe when you’ve established a firm hold on your corner of the market and achieved a reasonable level of recognition. When you get comfortable, however, is when you’re most at risk. History has proven this time and again. Blockbuster had the opportunity to invest in Netflix, but it declined. Nokia gambled that its reputation would carry it through the smartphone revolution and it lost badly. Woolworths crumbled as other high-street retailers endured and prospered. If you want to resonate, you need to innovate: to avoid brand fatigue, to meet the functional and emotional needs of a capricious user-base – to be more interesting next year than you were this year. Avoiding brand fatigue, however, is rarely simple.
BRAND ON THE RUN
IT’S NECESSARY TO THINK ABOUT HOW BRAND FATIGUE HAPPENS BEFORE WE THINK ABOUT WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. WHAT IS IT THAT KILLS REPUTATIONS, SLOWS REVENUES, AND SUBSTITUTES APATHY FOR INTEREST?
Resist the temptation to blame technology. While new developments can blindside companies, plenty of organisations have responded to seismic changes by becoming different and better: Nintendo began life as a playing card company, after all – and while Netflix’s streaming model is what it’s best known for, it’s easy to forget that it started out as a mail-order DVD service.
What, then, can we blame? It’s a process of stagnation and long-term erosion. Brand fatigue doesn’t happen overnight; it’s the result of long-term complacency, and it can take years to correct. Yahoo could have merged with Google and bought Facebook outright; it chose not to, and today people are so tired of it that its core business is valued at negative $13 billion.
Equally, sometimes brands become victims of their own success. When a company latches on to a good thing, it often doesn’t know when to let go. The GoCompare tenor first appeared on UK television screens in 2009; he sung a catchy jingle, he won the nation’s affections – and then he pushed it way too far. By 2012, the company was running ads in which a number of different celebrities attempted to assassinate him; by 2015, he was known as “the most annoying man on telly.”
Smaller entities aren’t immune either. Absent a clear, defined plan for brand momentum, a small restaurant that gains widespread popularity one year may be an obscure oddity by the next – and without the funding of its larger counterparts, the management will often be unable to fix it.
Certain industries are more susceptible to brand fatigue than others (technology and FMCG, for example because the industries are changing so quickly) but no industry is immune. It’s a constant struggle between keeping the company’s image fresh and interesting, and not alienating its most loyal end-users.
If you can’t evolve the product offering to suit the circumstances, you risk ceding your market share to the competition.
A BRAND APART. IF YOU’RE A BRAND MANAGER, YOU MAY HAVE A MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB.
According to stats from Momentum Worldwide, 54% of UK consumers see brands as mere acquaintances, and 17% consider them an enemy; in the US, the stats are 45% and 20% respectively.
You’re already at a disadvantage: a comfortable majority of end-users are predisposed to disdain and mistrust companies if they feel anything for them at all. If you want to change this perception, you’ll first need to change your thinking.
How can you work internally to revitalise your brand – without isolating your core group of consumers? What can you alter, and to what extent? Could Uber do private jets? Could Dr. Pepper make a successful smoothie? What can work within your brand’s paradigm, and what can’t?
It doesn’t need to be so drastic, of course, but it’s vital to think about what your current users want from your product that they’re not already getting – and what you can do to appeal to the unconverted.
CASE STUDY: COCA-COLA
CONSIDER COCA-COLA: AN OBJECT LESSON IN HOW TO AVOID BRAND FATIGUE. AS OF 2016, IT’S THE GLOBE’S FOURTH MOST POPULAR BRAND; DIET COKE IS THE FAVOURED BEVERAGE OF MILLENNIALS, THE YOUNGEST AND MOST DESIRABLE DEMOGRAPHIC; THE COMPANY’S SHARE OF THE SOFT DRINK MARKET HOVERS AROUND 48.9% WORLDWIDE.
You don’t need to be told that Coke is a best-seller, of course, but it is worth thinking about how much of its appeal is tied up in its brand – after all, Pepsi is famous for beating it in taste tests. The core has remained largely the same since its inception, but the company has consistently evolved its message and its product to its consumers’ shifting priorities.
Coke’s advertising and marketing has almost always been note-perfect for the times. In the 1950s, American society was reinvigorated by a sense of post-war optimism. The slogan? “Refresh yourself.” In the 1960s, the attitude changed: it was a period of broader freedom, great unrest, and radical new music. The campaign? “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” In the 2000s and 2010s, personalisation became king – so Coke slapped people’s names on its bottles and told them to “open happiness.”
Its one major historical misfire, however, was the launch of “New Coke” in 1985, a sweeter alternative to the classic drink. Consumers liked the old formula so much that CocaCola received 31,600 complaint calls when it was changed – and when the company brought it back, it made the front page of almost every major newspaper. It only failed because it misjudged the strength of its own brand: in its attempt to keep pace with Pepsi, it compromised its core appeal.
Usually, however, Coke sticks to its core message of authenticity: “It’s the real thing”, “America’s real choice”, “Can’t beat the real thing”, “Always the real thing”, “Real” and “Make it real” have all been used throughout the last fifty years. Any variations are designed to meet the emotional needs and desires of the current generation of consumers.
It knows when to launch campaigns, it knows when to end them, it knows its customers – and consequently, it rarely suffers from brand fatigue.
BRAND FOR YOUR AUDIENCE
BRAND MANAGERS WON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO REINVENT THE WHEEL. IF NEW COKE TAUGHT US ANYTHING, IT’S THAT YOU SHOULD ONLY ALTER A PRODUCT WHEN YOU HAVE AN EXCELLENT REASON TO DO SO.
To avoid brand fatigue, you need to think about your direction. If you want to know when to stay on track, when to change course, and how to react to new developments, it’s vital to listen to your customers. They won’t always have fancy degrees, they most likely don’t have experience in the field, and they may not have the most imagination.
But they know what they eat, what they buy, what they do for fun, what they like, what they dislike, and what they think of your brand and its products. If you can design an efficient system to not only listen to what they have to say, but talk to them about it, you’ll gain a significant competitive advantage. Whether you invite them inside the building or not, they’re the single most important part of your organisation.
Unifying these external and internal stakeholders isn’t always easy, but it is always worthwhile. The first step towards getting consumers involved is to go to them. Find out where their digital conversations about your products (and your rivals’ products) are taking place and reach out to them. Search forums and social media for content relevant to your offering, and tailor your messaging to the audience, the topic and the medium.
- ON VIDEO PLATFORMS such as YouTube, people want to be entertained. A product benefit needs to be brought to life with funny, emotionally appealing content: Burger King’s ASL video, for example, simultaneously promoted awareness of American Sign Language and the Whopper – with great success.
- ON FORUMS consumers submit serious enquiries about products in the hope of receiving impartial answers. Education and discussion are used to inform buying decisions: Yahoo! Answers may be the most famous example of this phenomenon.
- ON SOCIAL MEDIA SITES such as Twitter and Facebook, they provide feedback and raise issues. 67% of consumers are using these platforms for customer service.
- ON eCOMMERCE SITES such as Amazon, they search for product information, coupon codes, and the opinions of other users. Some 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase on a site with third-party reviews, and customers who interact with Q&As and reviews are 105% more likely to make a purchase while visiting.
STRENGTHENING IDENTITY, AVOIDING FATIGUE
END USERS ARE OFTEN WILLING TO ENGAGE WITH YOUR BRAND - ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS ASK. GIVE CUSTOMERS INCENTIVE AND PERMISSION TO TALK ABOUT YOU, AND YOU’LL KNOW WHICH PARTS OF YOUR BRAND NEED TO BE MADE MORE PROMINENT.
With Audi, for example, it’s always been the craftsmanship - the Vorsprung durch Technik. For Lidl, it was the price, but over the last decade, the company smartly realised that it could broaden its appeal and avoid fatigue by emphasising the quality of its products. “Low cost” is a good message, but “low cost and better than the other supermarkets” is a great one. Set aside some budget for experimentation: enough to create the necessary mechanisms to implement your customers’ more practical ideas, enough that the finance team won’t need to sign off on it, and enough that you can afford to fail without putting undue strain on your budget. If the evidence indicates that you need to look into crowdsourcing, social listening, content creation, or something else entirely, allocate enough resources for any necessary innovations.
When you have a realistic idea of potential ROI, translate the benefits for your company’s key stakeholders in finance and management: they’re unlikely to turn down ideas that can engage customers and boost sales. When you have a system that encourages responsiveness and flexibility, your company can only benefit. Oreo, for example, has a branding “war room” set up to facilitate fresh, interesting social media material. During Superbowl 2013, it had conventional advertisements scheduled, but put its comms team on standby to take advantage of any opportunities that might present themselves. The gamble paid off in a big way: in the midst of a power outage, the team designed, created, and uploaded their famous “Dunk in the Dark” poster to Twitter – and received over 12,000 retweets, 6,500 likes, and substantial media coverage. Oreo knew its consumers, it knew what they’d be doing, it knew what they’d like, and the company was justly rewarded for this by Forbes, Wired, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and countless other newspapers and publications.
BRANDOM ACTS OF CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT
CROWDS DON’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT THEY WANT, AND SOME COMPANIES – APPLE, FOR EXAMPLE – MANAGE TO MAKE A LOT OF MONEY OUT OF TELLING THEM WHAT THEY SHOULD WANT.
These are the exceptions. Not everything you try is going to succeed, but if you don’t try anything, brand fatigue is a near-certain consequence. You’re going to fail from time to time: all you can do is make sure you do so as quickly and inexpensively as possible. You’re also going to succeed, but don’t use triumphs as an excuse to rest on your laurels: if you’re not using them to lay the foundations for future success, they’re not really triumphs at all.
Embrace new developments instead of retreating into your comfort zone. Test. Change. Learn – and never stop learning. Stay fast, stay agile, and keep listening, testing, and co-creating.
Brand fatigue sets in when you make the wrong changes, or fail to make the correct ones. Welcome your consumers into the fold, and you’ll always move in the right direction.
Does your brand need a nudge in the right direction? Catalyx helps brands beat your consumer’s expectations by getting their thoughts, behaviour and ideas into your organisation, fast. We work with many of the world’s leading brands, including Ariel, Pantene and Gillette. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help your business discover better brand-building solutions in days, not months.