In yesterday’s email to Salon.com subscribers a new blog, The Brand Graveyard was announced. It will be a blog about dead brands, about companies (or perhaps individual brands from companies) which have “died”. To start they have posts on Circuit City, Mervyn’s, Fortunoff, and a guest post from a journalist formerly at The Rocky Mountain News. Each post is a short summary of the end of a historic (at least so far) company, starting with a brief lesson on the history of the brand then looking quickly at what appears to have been the cause of the demise.
In a related trend TechCrunch in 2008 started tagging posts with what they call the Deadpool when they wrote about a company or a brand owned by a larger company which was, in their opinion, no longer a viable and active brand. At times they have written posts taking a brand “out” of the Deadpool usually when a new investor has purchased the brand and restarted the activity which had been placed on hold. These posts, though often depressing, are also some of the most interesting reading as like The Brand Graveyard they often follow a similar pattern of a quick summary of the history of a brand then an update about what went wrong and why they are now placing that brand into the Deadpool.
I have been tracking this trend of trumpeting the Death of invididual brands and a related trend among some of claiming a broader death of Brands generally. John Winsor has a recent blog post on The Death of Brands It’s not about the Cow in which borrowing a metaphor from Seth Godin he asks if Brands are Cows then perhaps it is time to think of Farms not just Purple Cows. It is an interesting question, but I think the conclusion it reaches misses a more fundemental issue.
Namely that Brands today, or more specifically probably brand managers and management more broadly, have underinvested in building, sustaining and maintaining their brands while simultanously abusing their brands and the concept of Brand more broadly.
Why do I claim this?
Look at the advertising present today on TV (both Network and Premium, national as well as local). Then look at the ad pages in many mass (1M circulation or higher) magazines. Finally look at the ads present in the dwindling number of newspapers. Also the brand focused advertising (mostly display) across the web.
I see a trend of fewer and fewer Brands investing in all of these forms of advertising – from fewer national TV ads (or Radio) to fewer ad pages in many national magazines to fewer national campaigns (or local for that matter) in newspapers. Related forms of advertising such as Billboards are also, though this is entirely based on anecdotal observation, increasingly event focused (marketing to attendees at a convention in a given town for example) or purchased with only minimal thought.
However I am basing this solely on my own observations and second hand reading of others – I would love to find a source for specifics on TV, Radio, Magazine, Newspaper, Online and Outdoor brand advertising purchases month over month and year over year. If such as source also tracked Brand/Product placements inside of media (TV shows, Online content) even better.
Some proposed solutions for Brands
Brands should simplify. Across the board Brands of all types have an unfortunate trend towards creeping complexity and overloading. Brand extensions and additional products under the same branding are one aspect of this. Another is a proliferation of additional elements and definitions in the brand presentation (see any marketing content by Microsoft of the past couple of decades)
Brands should differentiate. A Brand should stand for something different from competitors. Brands should not strive to be all things for all people, rather inherent in defining the Brand should be how it is different – including what other alternatives it is different from (other products – including from the same company, alternative ways to spend similar money or time etc) All people who are involved with the Brand should be able to clearly and consisely define what is unique and different about the Brand – they should be able to from this definition help decide if the Brand is right for a given person. And the correct answer here is NOT that there is a way to answer in the affirmative for all people.
Brands should invest in clear messaging. Today there are more, not less, ways for a Brand to get a message out about the Brand. Smart Brands, Slow Brands, are Brands who take these opportunities not to invest only for short term, immediate results but look for results multiple sales cycles outward. This framing, around the sales cycle for a given Brand could help define the right ways for a given Brand to invest.
What other suggestions can you offer for Brands today to avoid being placed in the DeadPool?