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Priority #1 – Store Productivity, Same-Store Growth

Dominos India

It’s quite amazing that “store productivity” doesn’t grab the attention of most people in the retail trade in India, despite the fact that real estate costs are riding an all-time high. It’s become quite typical for rentals to range 20-25% of sales, and in many cases even higher than that. (In those instances, a retailer could only hope to make money out of illegitimate activity or illegal merchandise, which is not part of the business plan of anyone I know!)

Many brands will (and possibly can) justify paying absurdly high rentals with the rationale that in the store portfolio, some locations will never make money, but are needed as marquee locations for “must-have” visibility. This can work if you do have a balanced store portfolio. The question is whether the low-rent locations actually have the capability to generate enough margin to support the unprofitable locations.

While some of the rentals are comparable to expensive real estate in the developed markets, gross margins in India are typically thinner than in Europe, USA etc., reducing the spread a retailer has for its operational expenses. Add to the mix over-estimation of consumer demand, and the scenario looks even gloomier.

In this context, to my mind, each store needs to be made as productive as it can be. There needs to be fairly sharp focus on store performance and category performance data.

However, in the last 18-months or so, conversations with Indian and international brands and retailers operating in the Indian market, showed that topline (sales) growth and new store openings were the focus for most retailers (even till a few weeks ago).  Most branded suppliers have also shown unprecedented sales growth on the back of new store openings – their own exclusive stores, as well as new sites being added by department store chains carrying their brand.

For instance, in March 2007, one (new) brand said that their business plan called for 50 stores by the end of 2007, and 100 by the end of 2008.

When sales growth can be achieved just by opening more new boxes (stores), productivity and efficiency don’t appear to be important.

I believe 2008 will see a change in management priorities. I don’t think the unnamed brand above will open its 100 stores. It is very likely that they will want their already opened stores to work harder.

Productivity is obviously linked to store operations (people, process, technology) – when the merchandise and the customer are both in the store, you need to make sure the two are matched quickly and effectively, and that there is a focus on conversion, average transaction values and efficient inventory management. But that is only one part of the story.

Support functions, such as marketing, supply chain, buying and merchandising have a huge role to play as well.

Category management, efficient and responsive supply chains, optimising store-footprint and catchment to ensure maximum walk-ins … these are some of the issues I believe top management needs to look at carefully in the coming 24 months.

If you are in a senior management position in a retail business, what are your priorities this year?

Brand Building – Context, Consistency and Constancy (Time) – LEGO® Turns 50

From a simple tower to human-sized figures of cartoon characters – we’ve seen a whole range of creative expression using a simple plastic brick. (Well, to be accurate, a wide variety of plastic bricks – but all developed around the same principle.)

An icon in a child’s world, the LEGO ® brick has just turned 50-years young.

According to the company, “there are actually more than 900 million different ways of combining six eight-stud bricks of the same colour.” Ample room for creativity!

The company itself is about 75 years old, and was named LEGO after the founder Ole Kirk Christiansen put two Danish words together – “Leg godt” – meaning “play well”.

The company has had its ups and downs, the brand has been extended to include other product / service offerings, and the group also includes other brands today. But the power of the simple LEGO brick lives on, even in this wired (or increasingly wireless) world.

The time the brand has been around just re-emphasised the point about consistency and time being very important building blocks for brands. (See Lifecycle-Led Strategies).

“Play Well!”

CSR – Philanthropy or Empowerment

We’ve been discussing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and whether its implications (and need) is fully appreciated by businesses.

A couple of years ago I did a project with the weavers of Chanderi and it was a good reality check of the India that struggles to live behind the facade that the world thinks real India is. India really isn’t only about Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata, or Jaipur, Jodhpur, Agra for that matter. Neither is it about the stage set villages with its token computer/cyber point dressed up for visits of foreign heads of state. The potential to develop an economically sound India actually lies in its rural areas, in its cottage industries, in the small scale businesses of the unorganized sectors. The talent, the pride, the dignity of human life, the shrewd and competent business brain all exists there, but need to be nurtured and developed and most importantly need to be given a fair hearing and chance. Rural India is not looking for charity or ‘assistance’ – it is looking for empowerment. Unfortunately most of us don’t understand the difference. Corporate Social Responsibility is about empowerment, and does not mean ‘giving’ but ‘encouraging, developing, nurturing and sustaining’. CSR practiced in its truest sense would be a ‘win-win’ for both the buyers and the sellers in a given business environment.

With the growth of consumerism and wealth in urban India, businesses must realize that community awareness and service is not an option but a requirement. CSR can no longer be a sub-department of the personnel and HR division of the company. There is need for the ownership of CSR at a much higher level, on par with all other activities and decisions that drive the business. Corporate activism must be sustainable and accepted as a valuable change agent of today’s business environment. Corporate Social responsibility must have a much broader implication in modern India and reduce dependency on the government for social change.

Empowerment and concern for the society is often misunderstood as socialism. However one must realize that a capitalist economy only thrives when every citizen is a contributor and a participant in it and has the opportunity to succeed. As a recent example, ITC’s e-Choupal has demonstrated the success of such a concept in the current business environment, as did the success of Amul and Mother Dairy co-operative movement of the pre ‘CSR’ era of Indian business.

And yet, there is so much more to be achieved.

Leadership Change at Starbucks – The Barista Returns?

Last year in an impassioned memo, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz identified several strategic and operational decisions that, according to him, were responsible for a deteriorating customer experience at Starbucks.

Starbucks faced the classic problem of any company scaling up (especially a retail brand) – how to be large without being bureaucratic, how to be efficient without losing the soul of the brand, how to be consistent without losing the differentiation edge.

The problem created by Starbucks taking the certain decisions was compounded by the fact that competitors have not stood still either. Competition has improved its core products (coffee), as well as the augmented product (store ambience, service, wait time etc.), and in comparison Starbucks has possibly stood still or slipped back.

Now, almost a year after that memo, Starbucks begins 2008 with Schultz stepping back into the CEO role. It’ll be interesting to see how his passion for the brand is infused back into the stores and the operations in the coming months.

On a separate note, the classic “founder vs. professional” conundrum also comes to mind, along with the notable examples of Apple (Steve Jobs), The Body Shop (Anita Roddick) and others. (Though Howard Schultz was not strictly the founder of Starbucks – the company was founded in 1971, and Schultz bought the company in 1987 when there were less than 20 stores in the chain – he is pretty close to being one.)

The question is: for iconic brands that are more than just the physical product or service being sold, can a ‘professional CEO’ ever take the place of the founder(s), replicate their passion & vision and maintain the integrity of the brand? I believe there are examples to support both answers: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

What do YOU think?

Chips, Fries and Social Studies

At a faux “pubby” restaurant, I asked a friend why she didn’t order fries with the fried fish she had asked for? (I was looking for a carb-fat fix, but couldn’t legitimately order a whole portion just for myself.)

A withering look accompanied the dismissal, “You and your excesses!”

Undeterred, I went on, “But if I suggested having fish and chips?”

“Well, that would be a fine. That’s standard British fare.”  That clinched it for me. “So it’s okay to have it when you call it fish and chips, but not if you ask for “fried fish and fries”?!”

[After all, the Brits call French fries chips. The stuff that the Americans call ‘chips’ are actually called ‘crisps’ by the Brits – more logical, isn’t it? After all, the fries are not really crispy so it wouldn’t do to call those crisps!]

This kind of dilemma generally doesn’t bother the rest of the world – they either pick British English, or American (more and more), or just dispense with English altogether. But for Indians it can be quite puzzling and troublesome, especially those that have pedigreed “convent-education” – i.e. whose teachers were also ‘convent-educated’, and have drilled in the “proper” (i.e. British) spellings and names – and they run into Americanized environments such as food courts.

That led us on to a profound discussion about one of the most global and globally visible businesses – fashion – and how it binds the world together.

One would think that, as a globalised business, at least the fashion arena would be more inclusive and speak a common language. It does, mostly.

Till you hit ‘Sportswear’. It is a little strange.

I’m sure there is a conspiracy afoot – though I’m not sure who’s behind it, or who’s the target. All I know that it gets very confusing.

The first – most obvious and logical – image that springs to mind is that of athletes, active sports, and performance.  Caps, headbands, T-shirts and sweats, wrist bands, shorts, track pants, terry socks – you get the picture.

It’s quite clear.

You may be on the treadmill trying to lose weight, or on the court just keeping fit, or even on the fairways networking with your peers – there is an action-orientation as there is activity involved and a sporting game (whether team or individual).

There is a need for comfort and freedom of movement, a need for allowing sweat to evaporate and keep the body cool (but not too cold in case you are playing in the colder climes), and sometimes a need to prevent the odd wobble.

There is certain kind of clothing that fits the bill, and all of it is not appropriate to all sporting occasions or types of sport. For instance, swimwear on the tennis court may make the game more interesting to the spectators, but is of very little practical value to the players. (Having said that, “convergence” is a big buzzword nowadays, and some of the recent trends in women’s tennis apparel seem to be leading to the same conclusion.)

Good, then, you say – sportswear should be quite, quite clear – it is functional, and meant to enable specific performance.

Or is it?

Scan the websites, shelves or magazines, and the variety of merchandise that parades under the sportswear banner quickly dispenses with that image.  The category encompasses ‘sports-inspired fashion’ (and a truly inspired marketing person must have thought up that term) to casualwear, to clubwear, to the ‘I don’t know where-to wear’.

The sports-inspired look that grew big a few decades ago (think sweatshirts, track pants and sneakers) … and for some brands it seems to have become big again in recent times. The link back to active sportswear is quite clear in terms of styling, fabric and so on, so the use of the term is understandable.

The sporting brands also wanted new avenues to grow.

So you’ve got adidas, Reebok, Nike and their ilk doing casualwear or ‘leisurewear’, even as they plaster the billboards with sportspeople from basketball, football, cricket, and other games. But it’s not their problem – if someone with a ‘comfortable’ Body Mass Index wants to emulate the active image of Shaq or Air Jordan without really meaning to get down to the court, who is the brand to complain? Just make the ‘sporty’ clothes looser, bigger.

But somewhere along the way, sportswear seems to have become the ‘catchall’ category – a melting pot of styling (or the dustbin of style cues), depending on whether your perspective is inspired or inspiration-challenged.

For instance, it is easy to imagine that somewhere along the way, someone who did great T-shirts thought that actually he could increase his sales by selling jeans and chinos as well. And then others caught on to the trick.  Since these brands were already labeled sportswear, the definition stretched and then expanded to accommodate – just as sportswear does!

So now it is understandable to find some casualwear masquerading as sportswear.

But then you have menswear clearly targeted at the sport of ‘pulling birds’ and the womenwear geared for hunting at night. What should be clearly labeled clubwear is pretending to be casualwear and inching surreptitiously close to the sportswear label.

Then, there are these preppy types bringing on their University-team type look.

And the ‘ethnic’ print inspired skimpy halters and skirts whose only sporty function is to increase the heart-rate (the onlooker’s, not of the person wearing them).

The big thing about sportswear is ‘cool’.  Often it is about cutting edge.  So if the ‘cutting edge’ style looks like it won’t remain alive long enough to become a category by itself, it’s conveniently shoved into the sportswear category.

Sportswear is about slick and quick. It’s so fluid, so large, and so all-encompassing and messy (where are the boundaries?), that if there is a businessperson wanting to grow a brand fast, sportswear would be the category to follow.

It’s clearly a category for the Indian market, because there are plenty of bright young businesspeople who want to grow it big and quick.

I’m expecting a sportswear deluge. Just don’t ask me for figures or growth projections – let’s just say, they are elastic and accommodating like the category.

[Just to complete the story I began with – I got my friend’s fries, and wolfed them down, the waist elastic of the sports-inspired track pants expanding comfortably. None of that clubwear masquerading as sportswear for me – I was geared for the active sport of mall-crawl.

My friend meanwhile was going on about this particular store in New York, when I said, “I didn’t know they had shops for people interested is the social and historical study of mankind.” And that started a whole new argument – but that’s another story for another time.]

[This was the closing column “Checkout” for the inaugural issue of the Indian edition of Sportswear International.]

Blooms Better Than Booms

The recent stock market mayhem brings to mind another ‘boom’ – the much-hyped retail boom.

Booms and busts are complimentary, and always follow each other (if history is a teacher which we would care to listen to).

We are already seeing the signs of what people might call a slow-down in the Indian retail market. (Those people would have built their business plans, made investments and planned expenditure based on 50-500% annual growth, and would see a 15-25% growth as a slowdown.)

But for the most part, retail is an organic business, and a 15-25% annual growth is far healthier for most companies. It allows for infrastructure and processes to grow in a planned way. It gives the companies time to mature their processes and their organizations, and build businesses that are more sustainable. It allows the development of brands that are more lasting.

Growing retail businesses over time also allows them to develop the ecosystem around them organically – in my opinion absolutely vital for a healthy economic and social environment. (See The Consumption Game
and Myth and Reality of the Retail Revolution.)

But such an opinion may be a minority voice amongst crowds who are cheering the loud booms of explosive growth. 😉

Life for a Small Retailer

Management consultants, the media, financial analysts have had one phrase tripping off their tongues the last few years … “organized retail”. … The growth of “…”, the inevitability of “…”, the power of “…”

Some highly visible people have even made statements that essentially mean – “if you want to play at the table of retailing, bring big money with you, because stakes have now risen, entry barriers have now gone up”.

In our opinion, nothing could be further from the truth – retail is fundamentally an entrepreneurial business, and even today, you can start with one shop, or even a corner in a shop.

We did write about it in May 2005 (read here : “Playing with the Big Boys“), prompted by some of the profound observations people were making on the inevitable demise of the small retailer.

Typically the only people who seem to talk about small retailers amongst these loud voices are the market associations when an ‘organized’ retailer opens a store in or near their market, and those activists who despise anything that has a whiff of corporate.

In that context, it is interesting to read the BusinessWorld article by Vishal Krishna, M. Allirajan and Manashwi Banarjee titled “Squaring Up To Survive”. It mentions companies that are enabling smaller retailers to streamline their operations, and describes what individual store owners are doing to compete with Big Business.

Yes, things are tough for small business people, but don’t write them off just yet. Almost every business that is big today was once very small.

A Critical Question – What is a Brand?

Even in these enlightened marketing times, many people believe that the brand is the name. They believe that once you advertise a name widely and loudly enough, a brand can be created. Nothing could be further from the truth.

High-decibel advertising only informs customers of the name, it cannot create a brand.

If we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, a brand is an image, comprising of a bundle of promises on the company’s part and expectations on the customer’s part, which have been met. When promises are delivered, when expectations are met, the brand develops an attribute that it is defined by.

The promise may be of edgy design (think Apple), and the customer expects that – when the brand delivers on the promise and meets the expectation the brand image gets re-affirmed and strengthened.

However, these attributes are not always necessarily all “positive” in the traditional sense. For instance, a company’s promise may be to be low-cost and low-service (think Ikea, or “low-cost airlines”), and the customer may expect that and be happy with that when the company delivers on that promise.

The promise may be products with a conscience (think The Body Shop), which may strike a chord with the consumer.What that brand actually stands for can only be created experientially.

Creating this image, creation of the brand, is a complex and step-by-step process that takes place over time and over many transactions. Repetition of the same kind of experience strengthens the brand.

The brand touches everything that defines the customer’s experience – the product design and packaging, the retail store it is sold in, the service it is sold with, the after-sales interaction – all have a role to play in the creation of the brand.

For instance, to some it may sound silly that market research or how supply chain practices can help define a brand, but that is exactly how the state of affairs is for Zara. Changeovers and new fashions being quickly available are what that brand is about, and it would be impossible for Zara to deliver on that promise without leading edge supply chains, or a wide variety of trend research.

Similarly, it may sound clichéd that your salesperson defines the brand to the consumer, but even with the best products, extensive advertising, and swanky stores, for service-oriented retailers everything would fall apart if the salesperson is not up to the mark. This is indeed a sad reality faced by so many of the so-called premium and luxury brands.

Of course, brand images can be changed or updated, but the new image also needs to be reinforced through repeated action, a process just like the first time the brand was created.

(Extracted from the article “Brand Immortality and Reincarnation“)

Brand Immortality and Reincarnation

The entertainment business suggests that nostalgia is a very powerful driver of profit.

It is quite clear that retro is “in”. The movie business worldwide is full of sequels, prequels, re-releases and remakes. The music business is ringing up the cash registers with remixes and jukebox compilations.  Star Wars and Sholay still have a fan following. ABBA has leaped across three decades, Hindi film songs from 30-60 years ago have been given a skin-uplift by American hip-hop artists, while Pink Floyd is hot with Indian teens along with Akon and Rihanna.

As copyright restrictions are removed from the works of authors long-gone, the market gets flooded with several reprints of their most popular writings. Of course, we know that classic literature survives not just a few years but even thousands of years. Examples include the still widely-read 2,500-year-old Indian epic Ramayana by Valmiki, the Greek philosophers’ works that continue to be popular after two millennia and the Norse legends that have been told and re-told for over a thousand years.  Spiritual and religious leaders’ writings are also recycled into the guaranteed market of their followers and possible converts for a long time after their passing away.

On the other hand, the basic premise of today’s fashion and lifestyle businesses is that silhouettes, colours and design-cues will become (or be made) obsolete within a few weeks or a few months, and will be replaced with new ones.   This principle is true not just of clothing and footwear, but is applied to home furnishings, furniture, white goods, electronics, mobile phones and even cars.  In fact, the fashion business (as it exists) would find it impossible to survive if customers around the world chose only classics which could be used for as long as the product lasted in usable form.

What Fashionability Means for Brands

Other than individual styles or products falling out of favour, as fashions move and as the market changes, it is evident that some brands also become less acceptable, are seen as “outdated” and may also die out as they lose their customer base.

Of course, that some brands become classics is quite apparent, especially in the luxury segment where brands such as Bulgari have survived several generations of consumers, and continue to thrive.

However, the past is of relevance to the fashion sector because, other than planned or forced obsolescence, the fashion business has also long worked on another principle – that trends are cyclical.

Skirts go up and down, ties change their width, and the colour palette moves through evolution across the years.  A style formula that was popular in the summer of a year in the 1970s might be just right in another summer in the first decade of the 21st century.

So, the question that comes up is whether the same logic that is applicable to individual products, styles and trends, could also be applied to brands.

The answer to whether apparently weak, dead or dying brands could be brought back to life is provided by brands such as Burberry’s, Lee Cooper and Hush Puppies.  Sometimes innovative consumers create the opportunity – as with Hush Puppies in the 1980s – while in other cases (such as Burberry’s, Volkswagen’s Beetle, or Harley Davidson), vision, concerted effort and resources can make the brand attractive again.

The question then is not whether brands can be relaunched – they can. The more important question for brand owners is: should a brand be relaunched. And using the logic of the fashion business, rather than being left to linger and then dying a painful death, could brands be consciously phased-out and later brought back into the market as the trends change?

The Brand Portfolio – Diversifying Opportunities and Risks

These questions are particularly important for large companies, or in times when market growth rates are slow, or when the market is fragmented. Organic growth can be difficult in all these scenarios, and companies begin to look at developing “portfolios” by acquiring other businesses and brands, or by launching multiple brands of their own.

The car industry worldwide has lived with brand portfolio management for long. Even as companies have merged with and acquired each other, the various marques have been retained and sometimes even dead ones have been revived.  The companies generally focus the brands in their portfolio on distinct customer segments and needs (such as Ford’s ownership of “Ford”, “Volvo” and “Jaguar”, or General Motors with its multiple brands), and then further play with models and product variants within those.  When things go right portfolio strategies can be quite profitable, but the mistakes are especially expensive. Sensible and sensitive management of the portfolio is absolutely critical.

In the fashion and lifestyle sector, the players who already follow a portfolio strategy are as diverse as the luxury group LVMH, mainstream fashion groups like Liz Claiborne (with brands in its portfolio including Liz Claiborne, Mexx, Juicy Couture, Lucky Brand Jeans) and LimitedBrands (Limited, Victoria’s Secret, La Senza etc.), retailers such as Marks & Spencer (with its original St. Michael’s brand having given way to “Your M&S”, and also Per Una) and Chico’s (Chico’s, White House | Black Market, and Soma Intimates) who wish to capture new customer segments or re-capture lost customers.  Some of these companies have launched new brands, some have relaunched their own brands, and some have even acquired competing brands.

The issue is also relevant to the Indian market, whether we consider Reliance’s revival of Vimal, the new brand ambassador for Mayur Suitings, or the PE-funded take over of Weekender.  As the market begins evolving into significantly large differentiated segments, branding opportunities grow, and so will activity related to existing or old brands being resurrected and refreshed. An additional twist is provided by Indian corporate groups such as Reliance, Future (Pantaloons) and Arvind that are looking to partner international and Indian brands, or grow private labels to gain additional sales and margin.

The issue also concerns those companies whose management is attached to one or more brands owned by them which may not have been performing well in the recent past, but due to historical or sentimental reasons the management may not like to close down or sell them.

It is equally critical for potential buyers who would like to take over and turn brands around into sustainable profits. This is a real possibility in this era of private-equity funds and leveraged buyouts, where a company or a financial investor might find it cheaper and more profitable to take over an existing brand and turn it around, rather than building a new brand.  This is already happening in the Indian market. More interestingly, Indian companies have also already acquired businesses in the USA and Europe, and the potential revival or relaunch of brands is certainly relevant for these companies as well.

When to Recycle and Reuse

Relaunch or acquisition of an existing active or dormant brand can be an attractive option when building a portfolio, or when a company is getting into a new market.

For the company, acquiring an existing brand is often a lower cost way to reach the customers, and also faster to roll-out the business. The company may assess that the brand already has an existing share of positive customer awareness that is active or dormant, and that the effort and resources (including money) needed to build a business from that awareness will be much less than that to create a new brand.

The risk of failure may also be lower for a relaunched brand than for a new brand.

This is because the softer aspects, the hidden psychological and emotional hooks, are already pre-designed. This provides a ready platform from which to re-launch and grow the brand.

From the customer’s point of view, there is the confidence from previous experience and usage, and possibly also nostalgia and comfort of the ‘known’.

‘Age’ or vintage is respectable and trustworthy. This is especially powerful during volatile times or in rapidly changing environments when there is uncertainty about what lies in the future, and makes an existing brand a powerful vehicle for sustaining and growing the business.

On the Downside

However, when handling brands it is also wise to keep in mind the cautionary note that mutual funds issue: “past performance is no indicator of the future”.

In re-launching active or dormant brands, there is also a downside risk.  While the brand may have been strong and relevant in its last avatar, it may be totally out of place in the current market scenario.  The competitive landscape would have shifted, consumers would have changed – new consumers entering the market, old consumers evolving or moving out – and the economic scenario itself may now be unfriendly to the brand.

Also, the “awareness” or “share of mind” may only be a perception in the mind of the person who is looking to re-launch the brand, and the consumer may actually not care about the brand at all.  There are instances where the management of the company has been so caught up in their own perception of the brand that they have not bothered to carry out first-hand research with the target segment to check whether there is actually an unaided recall, or at worst, aided-recall of the brand. They are imagining potential strengths, when the brand has none.

It is also possible that, during its last stint in the market, the brand may have gathered negative connotations – consumers may remember it for poor products or wrong pricing, the trade may remember it for late deliveries, vendors may remember it for delayed payments…the list goes on. In such a scenario, it may be a relaunch may be a disaster.

So how does one know whether to resurrect a brand, or to reincarnate it in another form, and when to just let it die?  The answers to that lie in answering the question: what is a brand? And then, what is this brand?

A Critical Question: What is a Brand?

Even in these enlightened marketing times, many people believe that the brand is the name. They believe that once you advertise a name widely and loudly enough, a brand can be created. Nothing could be further from the truth.  High-decibel advertising only informs customers of the name, it cannot create a brand.

If we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, a brand is an image, comprising of a bundle of promises on the company’s part and expectations on the customer’s part, which have been met.  When promises are delivered, when expectations are met, the brand develops an attribute that it is defined by.

The promise may be of edgy design (think Apple), and the customer expects that – when the brand delivers on the promise and meets the expectation the brand image gets re-affirmed and strengthened. However, these attributes are not always necessarily all “positive” in the traditional sense. For instance, a company’s promise may be to be low-cost and low-service (think Ikea, or “low-cost airlines”), and the customer may expect that and be happy with that when the company delivers on that promise.  The promise may be products with a conscience (think The Body Shop), which may strike a chord with the consumer.

What that brand actually stands for can only be created experientially. Creating this image, creation of the brand, is a complex and step-by-step process that takes place over time and over many transactions. Repetition of the same kind of experience strengthens the brand.

The brand touches everything that defines the customer’s experience – the product design and packaging, the retail store it is sold in, the service it is sold with, the after-sales interaction – all have a role to play in the creation of the brand.

For instance, to some it may sound silly that market research or how supply chain practices can help define a brand, but that is exactly how the state of affairs is for Zara.  Changeovers and new fashions being quickly available are what that brand is about, and it would be impossible for Zara to deliver on that promise without leading edge supply chains, or a wide variety of trend research.

Similarly, it may sound clichéd that your salesperson defines the brand to the consumer, but even with the best products, extensive advertising, and swanky stores, for service-oriented retailers everything would fall apart if the salesperson is not up to the mark. This is indeed a sad reality faced by so many of the so-called premium and luxury brands.

Of course, brand images can be changed or updated, but the new image also needs to be reinforced through repeated action, a process just like the first time the brand was created.

Reviving a Brand: the New-Old Seesaw

Given that a brand is created over multiple interactions and repetitive delivery of certain attributes, it is only natural that the older the brand, the more potential advantage it would have over a new brand.  Just the sheer time it would have spent in the market would give an old brand an edge.

An old brand can appear to be proven, experienced and secure, while a new brand could be seen as untested, raw and risky.  An old brand may have had a positive relationship with the consumer, but may have been dormant due to strategic or operational reasons.  In this case, reviving the brand is clearly a good idea.  There is already an existing awareness of an older brand, which can act as a ready platform for launching the same or a new set of products or services.  Often, there may be a connection with the consumer’s past positive experience of the brand.

On the other hand, a new brand may appear to be fresh, more up-to-date and relevant, and vigorous, compared to an old one that may be seen as outdated and tired.  Certainly, if nostalgia had been all that brands needed to thrive, then old brands would never die and it would be difficult to create new brands.

Clearly, there is no single answer to whether it is a good idea to re-launch an existing or old brand.   If you are considering whether it would be a good idea to revive an old brand, or to acquire and turn an existing brand around, ask yourself this:

  • Is there evidence of enough customer awareness and support for the brand?
  • Are there positive connotations for the brand that can be built upon in the current market context?
  • Is there an opportunity to refresh the brand, so that it does not appear outdated, while retaining its core promise and authenticity?
  • Does the company have the resources and inclination to be a “caretaker” or “steward” of the relationship that has been created in the past between the brand and its customers?

If the answer is “No” to any of these questions, then one needs to think again.  However, if the answers are all “Yes”, then a resuscitation is just what the doctor might have ordered.