Building a brand from scratch is exciting but difficult; keeping it young and marketable through passing generations is even more so.
If a brand is left to "age" unattended, it is only a matter of time until it is quietly forgotten. As such, companies must allocate resources to prevent the ageing of their brands, says Wilson Shao, vice chairman, The Chartered Institute of Marketing Hong Kong (CIM HK). "Every product or service has a life cycle. A successful brand has a certain number of followers who, naturally, grow and have different needs and preferences in different stages of their lives."
For instance, a generation of teenagers may find a particular brand alluring. As time goes by, these teenagers go through a multitude of changes and become adults. If a certain brand does not change along with emerging trends to attract new customers, it will end up losing its attraction, both for the new upcoming generation and for its long-time followers, Mr Shao cautions.
"While the younger generation will then identify the brand as something that appeals to mum and dad, traditional followers may also abandon it as a result of changing tastes and requirements. Theme parks, for example, must constantly add new attractions to address the evolving expectations of new generations," he elaborates.
According to Mr Shao, companies must stay in tune with the latest developments in order for their products to remain marketable. This is especially true when it comes to the technology industry. "From the old Walkman to today's digital devices, we constantly see product forms disappearing and new ones emerging," he says.
Brand building is therefore a continuous process that is closely linked with market trends, technological developments, demographic changes and competition.
Mr Shao adds, "A renowned brand sells itself. This is so-called 'brand equity'. A logo or tagline alone does not define a brand, which has multiple components, including advertising, employees, corporate philosophy and, most significantly, customer interactions and experience. If these components fail to deliver what customers consistently expect, this will constitute a negative brand experience, which is harmful to the business. In other words, every facet of a brand must work together to reinforce it," he says.
Brand consistency therefore helps a business to grow and prosper, while the opposite can sink it. "The quality of a product or service experienced by a customer must align with the product advertising and company philosophy," Mr Shao stresses.
There are anti-ageing solutions for brands. "One common approach is rebranding," explains Mr Shao. "The increasingly fast pace in the market is forcing companies to change, to address evolving company needs and to avoid losing ground to competitors. This means there is a lot of corporate rebranding going on in the market."
Rebranding usually involves repositioning the company, and changing the logo, brand name and marketing strategy. However, rebranding is not always a miracle cure. "Inevitably, not all rebranding exercises succeed. Common reasons for this include the lack of funding and support from senior management, insufficient time and conservative thinking at senior management level, which can obstruct creative marketing efforts," he points out.
Another common remedy to the ageing problem is to launch new brands, says Mr Shao. "Companies sometimes choose to introduce a new brand to the market, but this strategy normally requires more marketing dollars as it takes time to create consumer awareness."
Thirdly, companies may choose to diversify into other industries or to build sub-brands to leverage on existing brand equity. The fashion and automobile industries provide many examples of this "brand stretching" strategy.
Considering the tough competition in the field, marketers need the latest knowledge and tools to stay ahead. First established in the UK in 1911, The Chartered Institute of Marketing is dedicated to providing learning opportunities for marketers to enhance their level of professionalism. With its long history internationally, the institute is the only professional marketing body to have been awarded with a Royal Charter.
The institute has a continuous professional development (CPD) programme in place to help marketers stay abreast of the latest developments in the profession. CIM members with relevant training and experience can be granted the status of Chartered Marketer.
"Marketing tactics and methods change fast. Marketers must keep learning in order to capitalise on new strategies. For instance, today's marketing campaigns make use of greater market segmentation and more advanced technology," Mr Shao remarks.
Technology has in fact made more refined market segmentation possible. Data mining, used for recognising and tracking patterns with data, helps marketers identify meaningful relationships in customer data so that they can anticipate customer needs, instead of simply reacting to them.
Ongoing improvement is the key to continuous success. The power of marketing lies in its ability to establish an emotional attachment between a business and its customers. With sound marketing strategies, an ageing brand can make an effective comeback.