Contest Results: This Brand Can Be Better

Fast Company asked readers to help reinvent several successful — and struggling — brands.


In August, Fast Company posed the question: How Can This Brand Be Better? Hundreds of readers weighed in, lending their expertise and experience to refresh such brands as Barbie, Martha Stewart, and Tiffany’s. The Fast Company team selected one winner — and two honorable mentions — based on their rebranding strategy statements’ potential impact, practicality, and promise.


Winning Entry

Dan Limbach, Siren Interactive Corp., Oak Park, Illinois

Brooks Brothers: When it comes to owning a word in the marketplace, many top brands have one. Volvo has “safety.” FedEx has “overnight.” Brooks Brothers has none. The best word Brooks Brothers could own is “ambitious.” It’s the quintessential word for high achievers who jump on the fast track and don’t look back. They totally identify with the word.

Possible tagline: “Ambitious people need ambitious attire.”

Brooks Brothers attire looks at the corner office and says “That’s going to be mine some day.” The crisp lines and stylish designs of a Brooks Brothers suit are always totally appropriate for the times.

“Dress for success,” and “Clothes make the man,” are not tired or dead phrases. And they apply to men and women.

Almost everyone buys a number of suits in their lives. For some, it may be just one or two every five years. For many, especially ambitious folks, it is likely to be at least one a year. Students with business degrees are laden with top prospects.


Brooks Brothers benefits by winning over a new customer as early as possible in their career. Better to sell them suit #1 than wait to win them over at suit #10.

Strategy: Create a line of attire called “The Interview Suit.” Market heavily to college students in their senior year. They are easy to target, and we know exactly where they are. Create an email newsletter that prepares students for the job-hunting process. Hold on-campus interview coaching workshops at elite universities, and pass out Brooks Brothers coupons. Put downloadable coupons on the Web, and market the “private” page to upcoming grads. Give away a Brooks Brothers bound copy of “The Future Executive’s Journal” with the purchase of a suit.

By marketing to students, they’ll build a qualified mailing list of high-lifetime-value prospects that could be customers for 40 years.

Beyond “The Interview Suit,” build lines that follow the entire career lifecycle. Snappy attire for the entry-level businessperson with ambition. The “leader” look for the corporate manager. The confidence-inspiring image suit for the executive. Maybe even a special line for go-getter entrepreneurs, with more of a maverick flair.

Honorable Mentions

Christy Saito, Nike Inc., Beaverton, Oregon

McDonald’s: McDonald’s may be having a tough time of it these days, but it is hard to imagine a world without it. Even though I don’t eat at McDonald’s, it would be strange not seeing one on my commute to work, or in every small town along the freeway when I drive from Portland to Seattle.


McDonald’s is a children’s brand, and they do an amazing job telling kids that they exist solely for them. That is an irresistible force (for anyone!) and creates a loyalty that is almost impossible to overcome. The positive feelings forged early on create a brand loyalty that carries through as adults (who take their own kids there) or a conflicted feeling like I have: I don’t eat there, but for some reason I don’t want them to go out of business either.

Because of this, I believe many people (even non-consumers) would at least subconsciously root for McDonald’s to survive as a brand. Even though they make a product that is known to be unhealthy and of questionable quality, the brand represents a mandatory childhood destination (birthday parties, happy meals with toys), road trip stops in college, and a guilty pleasure for the overworked adult (“I know it’s bad for me, but I’m eating in my car, and no one is going to know.”). I still have positive feelings for the brand in a nostalgic way, even though I fundamentally disagree with the value of the product line from a health perspective.

I’d like to believe that if McDonald’s improved the quality of their product by lowering fat and improving the taste, their brand would also improve. Sadly, I don’t feel that would be enough even though it is the right thing to do. Loyal customers know and expect the current level of palatability, and that is the consistency that keeps people coming back (along with low prices).

McDonald’s should continue to be all about children. But instead of just adding scattershot new products (apple slices with caramel dip) and running a strange hipster ad campaign, they should instead expand their view and focus on encouraging physical activity among their youngest customers in a real and meaningful way. (Not with cheap and faulty pedometers with booklets promoting shopping as a form of exercise.). If McDonald’s encouraged and promoted actual physical activity and exercise for kids in their product marketing programs, it would not be so bad for an active child to indulge in a Happy Meal every now and then. Hey, if they can make food fun, then I am sure they can make exercise fun, too.

John Zagula, Ignition Partners, Bellevue, Washington

Radio Shack: Radio Shack is great when you need to find a special wire. And they still have a surprising variety of hard-to-find electronics in those little stores. But what are they really all about? Radios?


Radio Shack has a weird range of stuff in their stores, from capacitors to robot cat toys. They’re too small to compete with CompUSA and Best Buy on electronics prices or with Sharper Image. And, frankly, their staff is not as knowledgeable as it should be.

So, embrace being small, be special, be expert. Radio Shack stores, often in malls, are more the size of boutiques than warehouses. Go ahead, be an electronics boutique, and — like a boutique — sell hard-to-find accessories and the expertise on how to best accessorize.

Hire or train the experts, become the folks people turn to cope with — or even fix — the ever more complicated world of wiring (or wirelessing) stuff in their homes. Then Radio Shack will truly be the Helpdesk Hut.

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