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Washed-up brands?

September 25, 2010

There was an interesting and almost frightening article in Saturday’s Guardian newspaper in the UK about the comedian Harry Enfield. It tells the tale of a popular comedian who fell by the wayside and, on attempting return, was faced with the possibility that he might be a washed-up has been.

It is a common problem facing all brands – the need to have consistent relevance to their consumer base. Today, with social media now dominating marketing, the opportunities for consistent brand promotion and relevance are enormous but, simultaneously, the possibility of mass derision is equally present as a constant threat.

Social media of course represents the ultimate “word of mouth” marketing opportunity. Brands no longer broadcast their announcements as statements of fact but instead hang around in the same bar as their readers, occasionally dipping into their “tribe” mentality.

Erik Qualman’s Socialnomics highlights some interesting ways in which even large corporations have used social media to assist their customers – even those who are complaining vehemently about a particular company’s services. So brands stay relevant even when their relevance is on the very point of becoming irrelevant.

Of course, should companies fail to understand the undercurrent of customer feeling about them, then their brands run the risk of increased irrelevance, tiredness and “finally, er, death”  – to quote Vincent Price in Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare.

One wonders how companies like the great British motorcycle makers of the past might have responded had they been monitoring customer perceptions via Twitter or Facebook or Blellow or whatever. Would British Leyland ever have produced the Marina Coupe model or the truly hideous and pointless two-door Allegro Estate?

Yet it is surprising how many companies do not attempt to understand what is happening under the surface to their own brands. Social media is often seen as an outbound marketing activity – even an announcement service – rather than a brand experience machine.

Social media gives companies the opportunity to move beyond pure metric watching and extend their view into the customer experience to grasp how customers perceive their brands. Brands, after all, are emotional statements. Without emotion, would brands like Coca-Cola actually exist? Sure, not everyone can be like Coca-Cola, but they must and should understand what their emotional element is in order to maintain relevance.

How are you monitoring your relevance? What measures do you have in place to track and respond to customer perceptions? Do you have the internal structure to respond to and deliver change? Is your management flexible enough and prepared to confront the discomfort of a few “home truths”?

Luckily for Mr Enfield, the comedian discussed at the beginning of this article, he has managed to get a new show going. He is magnanimous about customer perception and has developed a new show with his apparently more “relevant” fried, Paul Whitehouse. Despite appearing to be “washed-up”, he has managed to reinvent himself for a second coming.

Will your brand(s) be able to do the same if things go belly up?

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