Fast Talk: Brand Revivers

The only thing harder than developing a hot brand is turning around a once-popular one. We spoke to five brand stewards going through the process of breathing life into iconic names to see how they're doing it.

Make It Personal

Kim Richmond

EVP, marketing
FAO Schwarz
New York, New York

In the mid-1990s, legendary toy store FAO Schwarz lost its differentiation in the marketplace and got stomped by Wal-Mart. Kim Richmond, who has been with the company three years, plays a key role in the revitalization.

When the private-equity firm D.E. Shaw acquired FAO, there was no compelling reason to shop here. That's why we closed down all of our business operations and spent the next 10 months reinventing ourselves. FAO is a complex brand: People have emotional touch points with us, yet we needed to forge a new vision. We started with our merchandise. We went to vendors and talked to them about personalizing the experience for every child. Now we have an adoption center with dolls with different eye colors, skin tones, and hair colors. You should see the girls labor over their decisions. We also have the Hot Wheels Factory: You choose the car, color, engine, and wheels -- then you watch it get made on the screen. When it came time to hire new staff, we weren't looking for retail background. We were looking for passion. You're on stage the whole time you're working here, so we rented an off-Broadway theater in New York and had a casting call. We put 20 toys out on stage, and each applicant had to pick one and perform with it.

We opened the doors in New York last Thanksgiving. We didn't know who would come. At 10:00 a.m., two toy soldiers rolled out the red carpet while a third trumpeted our song. All of our associates applauded as customers came in. There was a line around the block that didn't go away until after Christmas.

Put Your Best Fans in Charge

Paolo Timoni

CEO, Piaggio USA
New York, New York

Vespa sped into America's heart on the long trail of Roman Holiday, the 1953 movie that made Audrey Hepburn a megastar. Pulled from the United States in the 1980s due to EPA guidelines, it reemerged, reengineered, in 2001.

A lot of companies have a name, and they assume that a name is a brand. No. Brands are something that take a very long time to develop, a mix of science and art. Some of the things you can explain, some you can't. For instance, how many industrial-design products exist 60 years later?

Ever since it was founded in 1946, Vespa has been a social phenomenon. Communities and clubs for Vespa owners formed all over the world. It became trendy with actors and actresses in Hollywood. All of a sudden, you have Roman Holiday. From a marketing and PR standpoint, the product was an icon.

We weren't in the United States for many years, but the Vespa clubs remained in place. People were dealing vintage Vespas, importing newer ones. It has provided a history for the company in the United States. We're now trying to revamp this concept of the Vespa club with some updated technologies like blogs. It's a way to promote the experience and get people together. If you're an Italian like me, you started to ride your first scooter when you were 14. Scooters aren't a mystery. But if you're an American, you probably have no clue. The people who belong to those clubs are very passionate advocates of the brand. They're very good at educating new customers, which is helpful, because the major barrier to sales is the education of potential customers. When people talk about the product and exchange information, it becomes part of the Vespa culture, and it's critical to the brand.

Get Close to Your Customers

Jacqueline Maartense

EVP, global product marketing, Corel
Ottawa, Ontario

In 1989, Corel was riding high because of its breakthrough graphics program Corel Draw. Although it acquired WordPerfect in 1996, a series of ambitious but wrongheaded R&D efforts weakened its standing. Vector Capital purchased Corel in 2003. Jacqueline Maartense joined shortly thereafter to repeat the success she had running Quicken at Intuit.

I'm here to take Corel back to some fundamental roots in terms of getting close to customers. If everybody gets close to customers, the organization will build a better product. It's as simple and as hard as that. The dialogue you inspire with customers and employees is where real insight comes from. Some of our programs that do this seem wacky, but they generate employee involvement and interest. In one, we took all of the engineering and marketing people and trained them for a day in how to speak with customers on the phone. The engineers thought they knew who used our products, but they only knew Corel power users. We exposed them to people who had only been using our product less than a month, and it changed their design thinking.

We have a program called Follow Me Home, an Intuit innovation, where we literally follow customers into their homes and watch them use our products. We also have pizza parties where the marketing, engineering, and quality-assurance teams analyze market research together rather than marketing handing down conclusions. They're very scrappy meetings, but the result is that the engineers have a lot more faith in the outcome. It all helps bring meaning to work in a way that's beyond taking home a paycheck. When you realize that you can fix what ails users, it jazzes you to get up in the morning.

In my years at Intuit, we had smaller budgets and a smaller team than Microsoft, but Quicken outsold Microsoft Money nine to one. We have a long way to go, but we've enjoyed six consecutive quarters of profitability. That's what jazzes me to get up in the morning.

One Sip at a Time

Yuengling, America's oldest brewery, was the number-one "Power Brand" in the United States this year according to Information Resources Inc., which tracks supermarket and retailer data. David Casinelli, who came in to run operations at the family-owned brewery in 1990, is largely responsible.

Over 176 years, you have good years and you have bad years, and I think the bad years probably outweigh the good years. Right now we're experiencing the best time this brewery has ever experienced. People always ask me, "What's the magic bullet?" I tell them there really wasn't one. It was a series of seeds we planted over time. It didn't all come together one morning.

When I started, a lot of the beer we sold was sold in our local market. If we were going to survive, we had to venture out. They weren't grandiose plans -- we just wanted to get to western Pennsylvania or Delaware. If I'm going to come into a new market, I have to present our products in a way that makes sense. We were selling beer in little old steiny bottles, and our labels looked like they were designed and bought from Kmart. I wanted to change the look and feel of the brand, and CEO Dick Yuengling and I fought about it a lot. Once I did, then I had to come up with change everyone could live with.

We rolled up our sleeves and did a lot of grassroots stuff. We'd go into small towns, and we'd take the sponsorships that the other beer companies turned down. Maybe the local fair or Philadelphia's Book and the Cook event. We made friends in bars, retail outlets -- right in the communities.

You get a couple of small successes and you build on them. One thing we knew: We had good liquid in the bottle. We're a discovery brand. If you serve us to six of your friends, maybe three say, "I really like that beer." You pick up three customers like that. The beer hasn't changed. It's marketing.

Keep Your Cool

Tamara Rosenthal

Director of marketing
Lacoste USA
New York, New York

After a moment of preppy chic in the 1980s, Lacoste USA had been dormant as a brand until Robert Siegel came in as CEO and hired Tamara Rosenthal, then 31, to run marketing. It has been hypercool ever since.

We tried to create a groundswell. To get noticed early on, we went after smaller specialty retailer shops, like Scoop. They have the ability to seed the brand with influencers, because the type of people shopping in those stores are setting trends. It was a viral, word-of-mouth thing. If you say you're cool, you're not. It's a property that needs to be demonstrated. We would gift product to some celebrities and then we'd literally see them wearing it in magazines. We also use a lot of outside agencies to help us do product placement. My mother would call me and say, "Did you know Lacoste was in the movie Hitch?" Yeah, Mom, it just randomly ended up there! Some things do happen on their own: Justin Timberlake went out and bought his own Lacoste track suit.

We talk about how to keep from getting overexposed all the time. Although we're expanding to 35 Lacoste stores by the end of the year, we've also narrowed down and eliminated many of the department stores we sold to. The mistake Lacoste made in the 1980s was trying to be everywhere -- you could buy us at T.J. Maxx. Our distributors want to explode the brand, and we probably could have sold a lot more goods last year if we had decided to sell to everybody. We didn't make every move we could. We had to pick and choose our moments. I get offers all the time to put Lacoste in award-show gift bags, like at the Grammys. Sure, we can land our product with a lot of B- and C-list celebrities, but what is that doing for us? The same with distribution. We could be in Loehmann's. But where would the brand be in two years?

It all comes back to the product. When I worked for Salvatore Ferragamo, they had great ad campaigns all the time. But at the end of the day, they weren't willing to make any changes on the product side. It doesn't matter how you're advertising or where your stores are. If you go in and there's nothing you like, it doesn't matter.

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