Why Brands Need To Remember To "Dance With The One That Brung You"

"Dance with the one that brung you" is an old Texas expression that contains a lot of wisdom (if not a lot of grammatical correctness). It simply means you need to look after whoever helped you get to where you are.

It's something a lot of brands forget, though. It brings to mind the death spiral Blackberry is in at the moment. It was just announced that its mobile platform has lost another half of its market share, year to year, from 2011 to 2012. It's now at a paltry 6.4%, as opposed to Android's 59% and Apple's 23%.

Remember when Blackberry was the mobile "weapon of choice?" Sometimes I'll catch an old TV show or movie where a character has to obsessively check his Blackberry and shake my head; it already seems like a different era. But the company blindly counted on that market dominance to continue, despite the fact that its users wanted what new devices, such as the game-changing iPhone, were delivering.  

Blackberry stopped dancing with the people who brung them. 

Gatorade almost fell victim to the same fate. For years, the brand could do no wrong. As the energy-drink market mushroomed, Gatorade's sales soared. Seeing no downside, the brand decided to broaden its marketing from the traditional high-performance athlete to general consumers. But the  brand hit the skids in 2009, falling almost 14% in the first quarter of the year, as well as losing a six-point share of the sports drink market in three months, their biggest dip ever.    

Why? Well, for those everyday consumers, Gatorade was just a fad they could easily give up. When the recession took away a lot of purchasing power, they simply turned to lower-cost carbonated drinks (and even tap water) instead of Gatorade. Meanwhile, the base Gatorade had taken for granted--athletes, coaches and trainers--had been taken away by new lower-priced competition, such as the heavily promoted Powerade. 

In 2010, Gatorade changed course, abandoned its broad consumer marketing, and put its focus back on the basics--athletes. Sarah Robb O'Hagan, president of Gatorade, knew where the company needed to go. O'Hagan, who was #23 on Fast Company's list of The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2012, is now reaping the benefits of Gatorade's recommitment to its roots, with sales rebounding with a robust 9% increase year-to-year in 2011. Here's what she did right:

 

  • Innovative, Targeted Repackaging. Gatorade sent a strong visual signal to its customer base that things were changing; it created a new unified design, prominently featuring its trademark "G," for all its different drink products. The bold look, backed by a large media campaign, packed a visual punch that was directed at those who had a passion for physical performance.  
  • Viable Brand Extensions in Its Primary Market. Gatorade's G Series provided products not just for athletes working out or in an actual competition, but also specifically for "pre-game fuel" as well as the post-exertion period. These were brilliant brand extensions that opened up new and lucrative sales opportunities and also served their target market in meaningful ways.
  • Increased Credibility. Gatorade also established itself as a hub of fitness knowledge, creating a Gatorade Sports Science Institute near the company's Chicago headquarters. The GSSI was designed to actually help athletes with Gatorade sponsor deals improve performance. Two more facilities have been opened, one in Florida and one in England, with the intent to create an international presence with this initiative. This impressive investment further cements the brand to its base in an authentic impressive way.

 

Blackberry forgot it had to evolve with its user base; it counted on the brand, not the product, to continue to deliver successful results. Gatorade also thought its name would guarantee marketplace domination; it stopped trying to court its original customer base in search of bigger sales and bigger profits. 

Fortunately, Gatorade did some fancy footwork to bring its original fans back in the fold. Whether the music has permanently stopped for Blackberry's dance of death is still an open question.     

[Image: Flickr user Janeen Hutchins]

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