How to cope with aging brands

Joseph Gelman

The story of brands getting old is a story of relevance. Individual brands, or even whole categories, that were once important for a particular consumer segment, become irrelevant as society evolves and tastes change.

In the past, one of the most common situations in which “brands aged badly” revolved around strong associations with national pride. Many brands, such as US automakers Ford and GM, once successfully owned this space. Over time, however, the kind of brand attributes that they were associated with lost their importance as purchase drivers. This was due to a diverse set of realities. More relevant attributes emerged such as the rise of the Japanese manufacturer Toyota’s reputation for quality in the US, the lack of relevance in national pride to new generations of consumers and even the emergence of a “global” mindset in which consumers were willing to try new things from other markets.
The rise of new generations of consumers with new ideas and evolving needs and wants, meant that although these “legacy - national pride associated” brands retained their distinguishing characteristics from their competitors, their attributes were no longer relevant.
This situation has been faced by a lot of European brands in categories such as retail, air travel, telecommunications and many others in which strong brands differentiated themselves by emphasizing their origin and roots: brands like France Telecom, British Airways or Marks & Spencer.
A current example of this situation is observed at Waitrose, the upscale UK grocery retailer. With the credit crunch, mainstream consumer segments are moving away from premium price products as they recognize that acceptable quality exists elsewhere. The ethical and “British grown” part of the equity of Waitrose is not relevant enough to consumers, who are switching to cheaper and even to “foreign” brands such as the European hard discount retailers, Aldi and Lidl, that are performing quite strongly in the UK market.
Brands such as Waitrose now face a tough question: Should I completely lose my current brand equity association so I can become relevant to new consumers?
The answer to this question is usually “no”.
Brands need to evolve their legacy to make sure the things that differentiate them from their competitors are complemented by more relevant purchase drivers. They need to upgrade the different touch points of the business, create new product brands, eliminate others and launch new product lines.