Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Branding Comebacks

Everyone loves a good come-from-behind story.

Think of movies like "Rocky", "Forrest Gump" and "The Mighty Ducks".

Those stories and hundreds of others like them, have inspired many of us to try and follow a similar path taken by down-on-their-luck, sad-sack underdogs who scratch and claw their way from the brink of disaster to dizzying heights of success. Going from proverbial rags to riches.

But, what about stories of those who made it to the top, only to hit rock bottom before rising again? In other words, from riches to rags to riches.

In the fictional world of Hollywood, think of "Jerry Maguire", "Shawshank Redemption" and "Any Given Sunday".

These are stories of those who had it all, lost it, and somehow found their way back into the light. Heroes who found a way to climb out of hell.

One such drama, playing out for real right now, sees the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks attempt the near impossible tonight when they pay a visit to the Vancouver Canucks. After being down three games to none, the Blackhawks are trying to become only the 4th team in NHL history to storm back from the brink and capture a seven-game series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And while the odds are still stacked against Chicago, stories of amazing comebacks can also be discovered in the business world. Think of reputable brands that, at one time or another found themselves out of touch, out of step and ultimately, out of favor with consumers.

While some believe that brands follow a predictable life cycle, growing, maturing, declining, and dying, this is clearly not the case. Over the last few years, a number of brands, written off as dead, have experienced a resurgence and are now breathing new life in wide open, new market spaces.

In business, as in sports or Hollywood, "it's never over 'til it's over" and that's why TSB is counting down the 2011, "Top 5 Branding Comebacks".

With honorable mentions to Puma, Abercrombie & Fitch, Aerosmith, Nintendo, the Mini Cooper, Lacoste, the Chicago Blackhawks, Martha Stewart and Michael Vick, here is our current "Top 5 List":


The hip, cooler than cool jewel of the tech world was not always at the top of its game like it is now. Back in 1985, founder Steve Jobs was ousted and the company began a downward spiral until around 1997, when Jobs was brought back as interim CEO. The return of this messiah from MacWorld was followed by the introduction of iTunes and iPod. And as millions were learning to say "I'm a Mac", other new products followed, including the iPhone and iPad. Apple now enjoys mega-success as one of the most popular computer and tech-gadget companies, with a huge fan base that has MacAddicts lining up for hours to buy the latest versions of their stuff.

#4. FORD

Ford Motor Company has emerged from the bailout debacle as the one U.S. automaker that many seem to agree doesn’t suck like a Hoover. Is that because it is the only one of the three that managed to avoid a government-funded bankruptcy? Under new leadership, Ford is cutting back brands and focusing on smaller cars, turning away from the Sports Utility vehicles that have long dominated the U.S. market. It remains to be seen whether Ford can ride the wave and return to its former greatness, but many signs indicate it is heading in the right direction.


In 1988, Kodak employed 145,300 people, turning a profit of $1.17 billion on $13.3 billion in sales. By late 2009, the payroll had dipped to 19,900, a level not seen since the Great Depression, bleeding quarterly losses of more than $100 million dollars. How could this happen? Kodak was almost recession-proof until the rise of digital, a technology they actually invented but sat on until the late 90's and playing follow-the-leader to Canon and Nikon. However, CEO Antonio Perez and Chief Marketing Officer Jeffrey Hayzlett reframed Kodak by restructuring the company to focus on business-to-business products such as commercial printing and the consumer inkjet market with the attitude that, "this is not your father's Kodak". It was Hayzlett who gave the brand its biggest injection of bravado when he stared down KISS frontman Gene Simmons on an episode of "Celebrity Apprentice", which led to "The Donald" firing "The Demon". Kodak now expects revenue in its core growth businesses will more than double in size by the end of 2013.


Talk about using the power of a story! Here is a brand that cleaned up and refreshed its image from old-fashioned and outdated to hip and happening with social media savvy. Old Spice has been around for over 70 years, but the comeback has generated widespread buzz that has allowed the brand to cross the generational and digital divide.


For a time, Starbucks was becoming the posterchild for consumer excess. Coffee drinkers who had once embraced the brand’s cachet now started to view the $5 latte as frivolous, however, Howard Schultz started stirring the Starbucks turnaround with what, for many companies, is the hardest thing to do. Howard had to confess the company had sinned. The CEO admitted to employees that Starbucks had expanded far too quickly and these mistakes would force layoffs and the closing of more than 600 stores, 80% of which had been open for less than two years. But, even amid the cost-cutting Schultz refused to drop health care for his employees, a line item that tallies $300 million. A shareholder called Schultz and said the crisis would provide him the perfect cover to cut benefits for part-timers, but Howard refused, and told his investor if he felt that strongly, he should sell his stock. Today, Starbucks is diving into new areas of growth beyond simply opening new stores with the introduction of the VIA instant coffee line and newly rebranded Seattle’s Best.

So picture if you will ...

Reaching over, turning off your iPhone, taking a long, slow sip of your morning latte, while dreaming about driving to the office in a new Ford convertible as the scent of Old Spice mixes with a cool summer breeze. And as you are totally relaxed, enjoying this serene Kodak moment, contemplate these questions:

Why do you think some brands are able to bounce back and be stronger than ever?

Could some of the same thinking be applied to your brand?

Would it have anything to do with placing vision before money?

And will anything stop the Blackhawks in Game 7 tonight?

"If you plan to win as I do, the game never ends"

P.S. ... Tried, but can't resist adding the great comeback speech in the history of Hollywood ...

Would you like Gair to add snap, crackle and pop with thought-provoking substance to your organization or event? Details on his game-changing keynotes, seminars and speaking programs can be discovered at http://www.gairmaxwell.com/

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Jammers5 said...

Gair as a Canucks fan, this post hurts. Good blog except for the Blackhawks reference! :)


Gair Maxwell said...

Got to call it as I see it Jamie ... noticed something in the Canucks psyche in Game 4; mentioned it to Ryan ... and only now is he admitting that perhaps, maybe, I was on to something