Don't Throw Good Brand Money After Bad

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This article could also be called, “who says you can’t go home?”

I was in Orlando this morning, presenting to the Retail Industry Leaders Association. I grabbed a coffee with an old friend, who is now running marketing for a major retailer in the United States. She was telling me how difficult their new role is, because they are busy untangling the mess that was left behind from her predecessor. It’s a story that I will often be privy to, but the morale of this brand experience was so fundamentally different than the usual fare, that it made me rethink how a senior marketing professional should approach their work and the brand that they serve.

What happened before all of this?

Prior to my friend taking over, the brand decided to do a major overhaul at the same time that many of the senior leadership had either changed jobs or were moved to other parts of the organization. With that, the senior leadership felt that it would be a good time for fresh eyes on the brand and marketing. They decided on an individual that might bring a different perspective to the brand. This brand was not faltering, but – at the same time – there was market erosion and competitive forces at play (think Amazon). The brand spent significantly on marketing and would continue to. This individual came in and cleaned house – both the internal team and a full agency review. It wound up not injecting anything new, but rather making everyone scared for their own job and performance. What followed was a radical departure in everything from creative output to expectations on results and beyond. This senior marketer moved quickly. They wanted to embody the change that they were hired for. You know where this story is going. The end result was a scared internal marketing team, new agency partners that did not fully grasp the history of the brand, to a marketplace that wasn’t very accepting of the new work in-market. It was all too new and too fast. There was a problem. With a strategy and timeline in place, this senior marketer was abruptly let go. 

Where does a brand go from here?

This is where things got interesting. My friend could have easily reviewed the work, adjusted it, tweaked it, polished it up, and continued on the set path and strategy (which was all well done, baked, approved and ready to roll). Instead, she decided to do something dramatic. She went backwards. Backwards? Back to where the retailer was before their predecessor took over? Wasn’t there a brand desire for change? Go backwards? I could hardly believe it.

“Some senior marketers don’t respect the brand. They’re too worried about their own image.”

Upon looking at the new strategy and how it *might* unfold, my friend realized that this work was all done to make the person that they replaced look good in the market. It wasn’t done in reverence of the brand, what the brand stands for and where it had to go. “I didn’t want to throw good brand money after bad money,” she said. “I believed that their original platform needed some reviewing and some TLC, but that it was much more aligned with what the business had to do. I don’t believe in change for change’s sake. I also don’t believe that a brand should follow one person’s vision, verses building on what the brand had become over the decades that they have been in business. I thought about the original founder. That one store that has become this large North American corporation. I thought about what their dream had become, and where that brand should be… based on many research points and conversations with customers, stakeholders, the founders’ family and more. This brand was much bigger than me. This brand was much bigger than my resume. This brand was much bigger than winning some advertising and retail awards. I wanted to make a difference by helping this brand grow.”

That could be the lesson, but there’s more… 

The brand – literally – went backwards. She pretended like the past few years never happened. If someone asked about, she accepted it as “a mistake.” They started from the day before that last person started at the company. “The general sentiment was that we could never go backwards,” she went on to say. “My reaction was, ‘why not?’ Their work did not put us in a better position. In fact, it may have hurt us. Why continue on that path? Why not go back. Why not build on the legacy, instead of trying to fix their work? The work that was done before was strong. It helped to build this brand to where it is.” I left our conversation wondering how many brands would do this? How many brands would erase the past few years of their marketing? How many brands would go back and start from that point in the past and invest on rebuilding the trust? How many brands would not just try to make the best of a bad situation instead of truly correcting course? How many brands could accept the work as a mistake? I wonder.

I wonder how many brands would have the courage to do this. Would yours?