McLellan: How resilient is your brand?
Friday, February 28, 2014 7:00 AM
Many people, myself included, believe in the power of a strong brand. Brand positioning has influenced buying decisions for years, and a company with a strong sense of its own brand and a commitment to authentically walking out that brand is at an advantage over its competitors.
But, is that marketing truth evolving? Let’s look at two situations and see how they played out.
In 1982 Tylenol was the most successful over-the-counter product in the U.S. It was the source of more than 19 percent of Johnson & Johnson’s sales growth and 33 percent of its profit growth that year. It owned 37 percent market share in the painkiller field, selling more than the next four leading painkillers combined. It was a brand to be reckoned with.
On Sept. 29, 1982, some capsules of Extra-Strength Tylenol were laced with potassium cyanide, each at a level toxic enough to provide thousands of fatal doses. Seven people died, and the person responsible was never caught. Johnson & Johnson management stepped forward and ordered a product recall of the 31 million bottles on the shelves throughout the U.S. They also pulled their advertising and offered a reward to help catch the killer. But first, they were silent for almost seven days.
Can you imagine how Tylenol would have been treated in the media and on social networks if that tragedy had happened today? How tolerant do you think the public would have been while they waited for Tylenol to respond?
Let’s look at a more recent example and how times have changed. Lululemon Athletica was one of the hottest and most profitable brands in the world a year ago. Its high-priced yoga gear was flying off the shelves and the company’s fans were rabid. They couldn’t get enough. Like Harley-Davidson and some other iconic brands, customers loved that wearing Lululemon apparel wasn’t just about the clothes. It was a declaration of their lifestyle.
Then customers started complaining on review and social networking sites. They talked about fabrics pilling, dyes that bled and yoga pants made with fabric so thin that they were practically see-through when a wearer would bend over.
The founder’s comment that some women were just too fat to wear the company’s clothes went viral, and a couple of weeks later, sales had plummeted and the founder and the company’s CEO were both replaced. All of that happened in a matter of a couple of weeks and most of it was fanned by public opinion that was visible and loud.
So we have to ask the question: Could any brand withstand today’s viral fury and volume? Would the brands that we hold up today as examples of brand superiority be able to invent and elevate themselves if they were startups today?
Let’s ask it another way. Were the brands we all grew up loving built because we didn’t know any better? We couldn’t check out their reviews on Yelp or Amazon, so we believed the ads. How would things have played out differently if we could have talked about our buying experience with a few thousand of our friends and connections on Facebook or LinkedIn rather just telling a co-worker about it?
Today, 80 percent of consumers look at online reviews before making major purchases, and when a brand stumbles like Lululemon did, it can be brought to its knees in days thanks to the viral nature of our world.
Is your brand/offerings ready for branding in the 21st century? We’ll talk more about this next week.
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