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Do Call It A Comeback: 5 Key Steps For Bringing Good Buzz Back To Your Forgotten Brand

Has your brand lost relevance? Don't worry, there's hope—and a way to get people paying the right kind of attention again.

As we watch the ongoing implosion of Anthony Weiner’s campaign, we may think that it’s very tough to make a comeback in today’s media environment. But many other politicians (Bill Clinton), celebrities (Martha Stewart), athletes (Tiger Woods), and brands (Old Spice) have shown it’s very possible to return to popularity if one manages it properly—and gets creative.

Brands such as Fiat, Converse, Cadillac, Miracle Whip, Barbasol, Febreze, and others have all gone from irrelevancy to not only getting back in consumers' consideration set but even becoming the preferred brands of many buyers. Doing so is not an easy path. It requires significant time, energy, creativity, and these key steps:

1) Start Listening Again.
Most brands start to go stale when they're on top of the world. They keep doing the same old thing that worked in the past, not realizing that new competitors are emerging that consumers now prefer. This happens because they shut out new ideas and quit paying attention to the customer. For example, Cadillac, once the premier U.S. luxury car, ended up losing sales to Lexus, Mercedes, and BMW. In the sports footwear arena, Converse, once pretty much the only shoe used in the NBA, lost that role to Nike, Puma, and Adidas.

When it started listening again, Cadillac learned from customers that its brand was seen as stale, poor quality, and only for older people. Converse was viewed by many as old school and its style as unexciting versus the competition. Yet both also had a reservoir of goodwill and positive feelings that could be built upon.

Eric Zeitoun, president of Dragon Rouge, a global design and innovation company, puts it well, "Analyze the positive (and negative values) associated with the brand, determine which are timeless enough to resonate with a new generation, and then craft the right insight that will make these values relevant in today's marketplace." So, first listen. Then act.

2) Update Your Brand Promise and Positioning For Relevance.
To regain relevance Cadillac had to modernize its promise and positioning. To do so, it totally revamped its styling, basing the new look on the Stealth fighter. It also changed its model naming (for instance, the Seville became the STS) and dramatically improved quality, power, and handling.

Converse had to address younger audiences as well. It became relevant again by offering its classic Chuck Taylor sneakers in a variety of new looks and developing other show collections tied to other brands (e.g., DC Comics) or designers (John Varvatos). This allowed it to make a comeback not just on the court but in peoples' everyday lives.

3) Give Your Product Line a Makeover Based on the New Promise.
Both Cadillac and Converse rethought their product portfolio and made major changes all across their lines. Other brands have as well.

Camilo La Cruz, EVP and director of Innovation and Experience Design at RAPP points to Fiat as another example here. According to La Cruz, the Fiat 500 brought the company back in the car-and-culture conversation by "enabling self-expression while remaining true to its point of view on design." They then built on that with a creative campaign that got attention from the marketplace. Which takes us to our next step.

4) Get Creative.
On this subject, Paul Kuzma (chief idea officer at TRIS3CT) tells us that the best brands find "simple ways to reinvent themselves by unlocking their social relevance, listening to their consumers, and finding new ways to get creative in support of their real, genuine role in the world."

These "creative ways" take many forms. Febreze introduced its "Breathe Happy Smell Experiment," showing how the product can make even the most awful place smell great.

Barbasol reached back to World War II with its "Shave LIke A Man" campaign, tying the brand to the greatest generation to address the new one.

Miracle Whip leveraged former music stars in its "Keep an Open Mouth" campaign to get people thinking about their product.

And, of course, no discussion on this topic could pass over Old Spice's classic "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" approach that introduced the brand stalwart to new consumers.

Mark Hall, president and founder of the agency Firehouse, sums it up this way, "If you can communicate a real cause, a purpose to what the brand can do, the role it will play, and what it stands for, there will be an audience. If it is rooted in truth, it will build from there."

5) Measure Sales Success.
The last step in the process is to measure your progress. As marketers, we often want to (and should) track branding and social media metrics to see if what we're doing is making a difference in repositioning the brand. That's great, but in the end what counts is sales. So when the comeback begins it's okay to start with marketing-type measurements, but six months or so after the new products and campaign launch, the work needs to start showing up in sales. Getting back in the conversation and being relevant is the first step, but in the end, if you want to call your comeback a success, it's sales that are the true measure.

[Image: Flickr user Ian Go]

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  • Anthony Reardon

    That's very good Mark. Actually, I find most of the points to be common sense, but I've also become a student of the reasons why businesses will not budge on their thinking or be open to different ideas. It's hard to sell solutions to people that rate their judgment so highly because of success to that point, especially when you're not telling them what they want to hear. To have a premise that companies aren't asking the right questions is a hard sell indeed.

    A two year old can ask the right question- "Why?". Why aren't you listening? Why aren't you thinking about what you are saying and doing? Why aren't you adjusting? Why aren't you getting creative? Why aren't you measuring bottom line results?

    I love this last step in particular because of all the hype surrounding big data today. I am almost fundamentally opposed to metrics, but most of my contemporaries scoff at the notion. I don't see what is so wrong with doing things on the basis of and evaluating outcomes on immediately evident impacts. Is it so hard to imagine having a good idea of what you are going to do as a company to hit home with your market, and to measure your success on whether your assumptions were correct or not? Why?

    Best, Anthony

  • Mark McNeilly

     Anthony, thanks for your comments. Yes, it's difficult to get people to change their thinking.

    As far as branding, common sense and metrics...I don't think branding is rocket science but it is a combination of art and science. There's the qualitative and creative part but also the quantitative, ROI and discipline part. I think both are needed.

    All the Best,