Tuesday, April 17, 2012

AxSA: Expositions (17 April 2012)


In keeping with our current theme regarding to the turnaround of troubled enterprises, today we will take a look at what it takes to resuscitate a waning brand. Like all things, an enterprise’s offerings are subject to a life cycle, and when those offerings reach the point of maturity or decline, it is up to managers of the enterprise to find ways to eke out new revenue from those offerings or to abandon them, altogether. Naturally, there is no paramount set of standards upon which managers can rely to make such decisions, but that may be a good thing, because it means that some brands, otherwise logically destined for extinction, can be remade and reintroduced to an adoring consumer base.

Take, for instance, the case of DC Comics. Of course, most people would not think much of the comic-book world, but it is a $418 million industry, with just over $248 million being spent on the top 300 comic titles. To its credit, DC Comics, a division of Warner Bros Entertainment Company, has been one of the more venerable enterprises in the industry. Nevertheless, this publisher with such recognizable, super-powered characters as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman spent decades as the #2 industry player, behind rival Marvel Comics, and despite any number of efforts to spike interest in their brand, DC continued to watch its share of the market lose ground to both Marvel and a troupe of smaller publishers. Consequently, DC decided to try a stunning Hail Mary pass.

In early 2011, the editors, writers, and artists of DC Comics told the world that they were planning the cancellation of all their comic titles, and that there would be the launch of 52 new titles with all-new, issue number ones. In these new titles, DC planned to update its portfolio of iconic characters, redefine their origins, embark upon new storylines, and wrap it all in compelling artistic detail. This campaign, dubbed The New 52, got the attention of not only comic-book readers but the broader media world, and when launched in September of last year, the effort won critical acclaim from publishing peers likes Forbes magazine, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Wired, the New York Times, and even the Christian Science Monitor, just to name a few. What’s more, in that month, DC dominated comic-book sales at 43.04% of units sold, and it managed to nearly tie its competitor, Marvel Comics, in sales for all of 2011. (Marvel finished that year capturing 34.43% of dollars spent on comics and graphic novels, compared with DC’s 33.74% of dollars spent.) To date, nine of DC’s titles occupy the chart of top-ten comics sold each month since the re-launch. Indeed, the move was a success for DC Comics, placing an aging brand on a much healthier footing, and also helping to reinvigorate interest in the entire sector.

This story about the House of Superman is intended to illustrate just how creativity, position, timing, and marketing can be used by managers to rebrand their existing offerings. In order to effectively turn around an enterprise, managers must take an honest and thorough look at their offerings. Oftentimes, those offerings are dated and simply do not appeal to consumers. Some may need to be discarded, and rightfully so—but those existing offerings that remain might need a little attention, as well. Even adding new offerings to the portfolio may not be enough to bring back consumers. Here is where managers have to take a hard look at their overall image and redefine themselves to the marketplace, much like the superhero businessmen at DC Comics.

To initiate a successful rebranding initiative, managers would be well-served take the following steps:

  • · Do some homework. Managers cannot begin the process by quickly devising new ideas; that would be tantamount to starting in the middle. Instead, they must commit to performing a bit of necessary due diligence on themselves and their competitive environment. The study begins with a look at their portfolio of offerings, in order to determine which of those offerings are working for them and which ones are not. In addition to carefully analyzing the revenue figures derived each offering, the managers should engage their customers to determine what those customers like and do not like about the offerings. With this, the managers should also seriously evaluate their competitors’ offerings, and ask buyers what it is that they like about those offerings, as well. To the extent that market research is critical when assessing consumer tastes and trends, this type of direct questioning will provide much-needed insight into the minds of consumers, and it can shape the way that managers go forward.
  • · Identify your value and difference. It is important for the managers to carefully analyze the findings from their due diligence. Specifically, managers must uncover any information that proves positive about their existing offerings and the overall image of the enterprise. When the managers get a clear understanding of what sets their offerings apart, as well as what it is that clients like about them, they have discovered critical elements of their value proposition, and they must see to enhance those elements. Separately, though, they must also contend with the negative connotations, whether those relate to specific products or to the enterprise’s image, such as dated or insufficient offerings, poor quality, subpar customer service, and so on. These negatives, managers know, must be corrected or set aside for good if the enterprise is to be rebranded effectively. (Translation: there are no sacred cows; let go of the old.)
  • · Develop new offerings and repackage existing ones. The aforementioned DC Comics story provides a great example of this step. The creators of these comic books did not simply start over; they remade their entire portfolio, transforming even older and staid icons into more modern and relevant characters, while adding a large spate of new characters, all with very little regard for what they were leaving behind in the old brand. The efforts of managers to rebrand their own enterprise and portfolio of offerings should follow the same course. This means a new brand DNA that sweeps broadly, from the corporate colors to the logo and from the packaging to the website. A new look denotes innovation, growth, and progress, and because humans are highly visual by nature, that new look also reshapes the cognitive impression left on the marketplace by the old brand. Understanding this, as times and tastes change, it is necessary for managers to develop an aesthetic that is appropriate and befitting of the rebranded enterprise’s overall image, one capable of capturing the collective attention of new and existing consumers and, more importantly, keeping it.
  • · Craft a new message. With the new look comes a new story. Managers would do well to remember that flashy packaging is only one part of the initiative; their enterprise also needs to articulate its story in a new and attractive way. Here is where new taglines, new language for the website, new scripts for advertising, and more are necessary. Managers have to understand that, where most consumers are concerned, perception is greater than reality, and the right message can alter the way consumers think about anything and the way they spend their money. Therefore, if an enterprise is capable of shaping a consumer’s perception, then that enterprise is also capable of essentially redefining that consumer’s reality, changing a consumer’s want for an offering, as an example, into a serious “need”.
  • · Develop a plan to roll out the new brand. Managers simply cannot take a haphazard approach to rolling out their new brand to the public, because successful branding and rebranding does not just happen. It is an effort that is managed and scripted. Consequently, managers must have a clear understanding of the costs associated with such a new campaign; monies will need to be committed to marketing, public relations, sales material, new offerings, and so on. A timetable also must be established for the roll-out, ensuring that everything happens in the most orderly and impactful manner. Additionally, there are resource needs for such a campaign, for example, coordinating the production and dissemination of new marketing materials, the training of personnel, and more. With these things, the managers must make two critical selections for their campaign. The first is someone to actively coordinate the roll-out of the new campaign, and the second is an influential spokesperson for the campaign, one who is well-acquainted with the new script and who can effectively sell the rebranded message of the enterprise. Indeed, a thorough amount of project management goes into introducing a new brand to the public.
  • · Implement. Timing is everything in business, and that is no less true for a enterprise seeking to make a new impression. Managers want to choose a time when they can dominate market attention, not compete for it with a competitor or some other form of distraction. This assures that they can get a lot of traction out of their efforts, and more importantly in today’s world, that word of their efforts can spread easily and quickly. (For example, a restaurant might elect to introduce its rebranding campaign at the opening of the market’s peak season, when its competitors are not planning to unveil new menu or styling changes of their own, but just when consumers are preparing to ramp up spending.) With the proper timing, managers must also remember another important rule: do not muck it up. In fact, if managers adhere to their plan, provided that the plan has been devised appropriately, then they may not risk running afoul and potentially wrecking the campaign.
  • · Get Feedback. After the roll-out commences, managers should engage their customers frequently. It is important to know that the effort has been successful, and to consider making changes where they are necessary.

As the offerings of enterprise grow older, consumers begin to deem them less relevant, particularly when compared to competing offerings, and so, those consumers begin to abandon the old for the new. That means an end to revenue growth or, at worse, declining revenues, altogether, for an enterprise. In many cases, there is little that managers can do but to attempt traditional turnaround initiatives. Unfortunately, no amount of cost-cutting or infusions of fresh capital is going to drive consumer demand if the enterprise’s offerings pale in the face of competition. Realizing this, managers must take a hard look at their portfolio of offerings, jettison the old and unsalvageable ones, and introduce new and exciting ones, all while remaking the image of brand. This is how an enterprise can remain relevant in a competitive marketplace.

For its efforts, DC Comics did not trounce Marvel Comics with the reintroduction of its brand and the launch of 52 new titles, but it did put its rival and the comic-book world on notice. Managers from businesses and industries far removed from that one would do well to learn a lesson from the House of Superman. Indeed, rebranding, when planned for and implemented effectively, as DC has shown us, can make a big difference between the slow death of an enterprise and its sustainability.

Gary C. Harrell is the founder and managing principal of Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. For additional information, please write info@axiomstrategyadvisors.com.


Digger in LV said...

We should start a comic book company. There are 418 million reasons to do it. I'm just saying.

Mashoud said...

How do you know so much about comic books? Is G. Harrell consulting the Justice League?

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