At the end of last week, I was doing an interview for a marketing podcast. Near the end of the session, the interviewer asked an interesting question:

“When a potential client calls you, what is the main problem they call about?”

My mind quickly sorted through the hundreds of conversations I’ve had over the years and I came up with a list of three general areas covering a few of the major categories:

Scenario 1) the brand manager or business owner has a new product that is a little different from competitors in the market, but not what they’d consider to be different enough to make the strategic approach obvious. They want to know how to maximize the differentiation and carve out a sizeable chunk of the market to reach the sales goals they have.

Scenario 2) the brand manager or business owner has a product that’s been on the market for a relatively short period of time but isn’t as competitive and successful as they hoped. They’ve changed the messages and the creative, maybe more than once, but the impact has been limited and the product still isn’t performing the way they need it to.

Scenario 3) the brand manager or business owner is in charge of a brand that has been successful in the past, maybe even a market leader, but new market developments, technological advances, or shifting customer needs have moved the market out from under it. Today the brand is one of the pack, holding on to a piece of the market – although declining – generating some decent revenue, but not maxing out the potential it still has even as it nears the end of its lifecycle.

While the first two scenarios are obvious and continue to make up the majority of calls we receive and projects we work on, it was the recent uptick in calls and projects we’ve accepted related to scenario three that made me think this may make for an interesting PositioningTip®.

The Challenge of Mature Brands

In many cases these mature products or services have been highly successful in the past. Many were market leaders at some point. Company expectations are still relatively high, but new branded products garner most of the attention and generic competition is eroding the traditional customer base.

Sales are flat or declining and in spite of changing the messaging and creative to revitalize the brand, its impact has been negligible. Overall, promotional efforts that had been successful in the past also seem to have little effect and the customers we’ve successfully targeted before no longer see the brand as the best answer to the problem they have.

Potential Solutions

In many of these cases the team has taken the right steps but just needs a different perspective to realign the opportunity with the market that exists today. It’s a very natural course of action to stay with what has made the brand successful in the past. Even in cases where the team has considered shifting their perspective they frequently make incremental changes. This approach is completely understandable but doesn’t change the trajectory much, if at all.

Experience with brands like this over the years has exposed several common pitfalls. The most prominent is many “start at the end,” meaning teams try to shift the brand sales curve by changing the messages and creative execution as a first step. The assumption is that the product or service is still relevant to the target customer, but the messages aren’t resonating and the creative no longer catches their attention. We’ve worked with teams that have spent countless dollars and hours developing, testing, and refining new copy and creative with little to show for it. In the worst cases, teams have done this multiple times trying to get the “right” messages to move the sales needle.

The decision to change the messages and creative can be the right one, but instead of making these changes as a first step, we guide our clients to step back and reevaluate the target customer. Often, the historic target customer is no longer the customer with the potential to drive sales.

Does this mean scrapping everything that’s been done before? Sometimes. The answer lies in where the market is today in comparison to where the market was when the latest positioning strategy was developed. By stepping back to the beginning, determining what the product or service brings to the market in light of changing dynamics, understanding who the customers are today and which can be successfully targeted, and creating a positioning strategy that is relevant and differentiating, a mature brand can contribute significantly to the organization.

One last point, when reassessing the target and the positioning strategy the tendency is to broaden both with the hope that a larger target audience provides greater opportunity. We urge our clients, whether they’re introducing a new product or attempting to grow an existing one, to be more selective than less. In the case of mature brands, this adage is even more important; broad, non-descript targeting, and non-differentiating positioning strategy will leave potential customers even less interested in your product or service.

Admittedly, the opportunities for declining brands aren’t always easy to see. If you have been charged with maximizing a mature brand and would like another perspective, simply click reply and contact us today.

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