Confusion, loss of vision, incessant babbling. They used to call it old age or senility. Now we recognize these as the symptoms of brand dementia.
Look around. It’s not hard to spot. Onset usually begins in middle age as the brand grows increasingly sedentary and set in its ways. In most cases, loss of vision is the first symptom causing the brand to move in fits and starts without a sense of direction. This is usually accompanied by hearing loss, especially in the range spoken by the target market. Speech problems will then develop as clear articulation gradually gives way to irrelevant babble about passion, commitment and quality. The limited gait observed in demented brands is in stark contrast to the purposeful strides of a healthy brand. The afflicted brand shuffles along unable to keep up with consumers. Brands in this condition usually compensate by blindly mimicking competitors.
Stripped of any long-range vision, the brand is unable to see beyond the next quarter and will often walk right into oncoming obstacles. A decline in social skills leads to further alienation from its target market. This can be seen in the brand's awkward attempts to fit in with a generation it has lost touch with and clearly can’t begin to fathom. As the condition worsens, the brand is easily overwhelmed by technology and can no longer cope with change. Late stages will bring paralysis accompanied by a complete loss of identity and purpose.
Seeing your childhood heroes decline in this manner is never easy. I saw this happen to my beloved Sears whom I'd known for over 40 years. The last time I saw Sears it was obvious that the brand was terribly confused and had no idea who I was. It was sad the way it stared blankly back at me when I went to visit. I'm still getting over it.
The real shame is that we had the knowledge to diagnose and treat brands like Sears, Borders, Encyclopedia Britannica and Kodak back when there was still time. In fact, brand dementia is curable if detected early. With today’s modern marketing there is no reason why any brand shouldn't be able to live a healthy, productive life for at least a few centuries. As with many business maladies a healthy lifestyle is the key to prevention. Here are a few tips to keep your brands in top shape.
Diet: Brands need a regular diet of target market insight from the four main food groups: perceptions, beliefs, touch points and behavior. These help ward off irrelevance and can provide early warning for other health issues years before clinical symptoms appear.
Exercise: CEOs and other brand managers need to get out more. An exercise we have found particularly invigorating is to walk in the shoes of your customer for a few miles each week. Tearing down silos inside the company can also provide an excellent workout and add years to a brand's life.
Circulation: Constricted attention spans often prevent information pumped out of the marketing department from reaching command and control centers in the C-Suite. Short, jargon-free updates that reflect C-suite priorities are less prone to clotting.
Regular check-ups: Too many brand managers treat positioning as an event. Once the consultants leave they cross it off their to-do list and carry on as before. As the name implies, positioning is a dynamic activity of anticipation and adapting to markets. Regular brand check-ups ensure progress.
When to see a professional: Brand dementia is often misdiagnosed as a quality defect, sales hiccup or market constipation. If a company's vital signs seem off, brand dementia should be suspected immediately, especially among high-risk companies.
Intervention: We all know that brand values must permeate product, price, place and promotion. So who in the organization is responsible for all that? Hint: It's not the CMO. If the CEO can't brand, an intervention may be the only option to save them from themselves.
It's time for marketers to take brand dementia seriously. Left untreated, this condition destroys lives and is the leading cause of premature mortality among otherwise healthy businesses. Don't let it happen to the brands you love. This routine alone may not give your brand six-pack abs, but it will allow it to live a longer, more fulfilling life.