The dramatic changes that we have experienced in the past 30 years have prompted many organisations to reinvent themselves.
Dunnes Stores has moved upmarket, rather than try to compete head on with the German discounters. Ryanair moved down-market from its initial full-service model, and is now creeping back up with some added frills. Vodafone added new products and services to its portfolio, as data became more lucrative than telephone calls. And many convenience stores reduced their product mix, and expanded delicatessen and coffee offers.
Pulling back from the brink of disaster, one of the more iconic corporate reinventions is the way IBM saved itself by transforming from being the largest PC manufacturer in the world to being number-one for professional services.
On a different scale, Des Kelly Interiors was founded in 1971 and for almost 50 years, built its reputation for carpets in the Dublin area. Focused on the budget end of the market, the company catchphrase for many years was "we buy by the mile so you save by the yard". Over time, as the market has changed, the company has moved more upmarket, and has widened its product selection, which includes beds and mattresses.
Whatever the reasons for a company to change, the challenge for all facing such transformation is how to successfully reposition so the core base of customers is not lost. And how can such businesses also extend their reach to a wider, new catchment audience?
Tips for Changing Brand Position and Perceptions
Changing brand perceptions isn't all about advertising and messaging. The big corporates that have done this successfully didn't just start by spending millions on exotic TV and press campaigns. The starting point is about refining your proposition in the first place, before you try to shout about it. That is what I focus on today.
As we look ahead to the end of the calendar year, many of us are focused on hitting our annual targets. While, of course, that's the short-term priority, others also take time to consider the new year ahead. As part of that thought process, take time to look outside at how the market is changing. How have customer behaviours and preferences changed? How have your suppliers and competitors reacted to that? A simple SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) is ideal for creating debate and identifying the forces for change. But remember, don't shift too far from your core.
Before investing time or money, go and test your thinking by talking to customers and front-line staff. Are the changes that you're considering appropriate for your customer base? If you make changes, will you alienate your current customers, and does that matter? Do you need to find a new customer base? If so, how will you do that?
In our fickle world, customers often tire of 'sameness', so regular 'newness' is key to piquing their continued interest. As a minimum, that should be within your current product portfolio. But don't stop there. Consider what other adjacent product categories might be a natural fit in your range.
If you'd like to go more upmarket with higher-priced items, remember how retailers classify their ranges using the 'good, better and best' framework. Rather than try to jump from 'good' (i.e. lower prices) to 'best', should your transition include some 'better' ranges in between? If your strategy is to move more down-market, the same thinking applies.
After reconsidering your product mix and price architecture, consider what changes should be made to presentation. For retailers and hospitality businesses, that includes shop-fit, standards, merchandising and signage. For a B2B company selling services, that might include your logo, website, brochures and other collateral. Des Kelly Interiors, for example, is making significant investment in its stores to support the new look and feel.
I've always believed in the notion of 'those nearest to the problem are nearest to the solution'. At the very least, engage your people in the change and consult them on their views. Then make sure they know about the change that you've decided on. Train them, and give them the context for the change and the knowledge required to sell the new products. You may also need to consider if you require different or dedicated salespeople that will focus exclusively on the new products.
Developing the right message and how to communicate that is a study in itself. These short few words are not enough on their own, but they should at least ensure you put messaging on your agenda. If you don't have budget for TV advertising, press and social media are very effective.
In summary, there are two different challenges here. The first is about changing your product mix, which is not rocket science. In most cases, it's pretty straightforward. But too many times I have come across organisations that make sweeping assumptions when expanding their ranges.
They assume that their people can and will sell the new products without any communication or training. Similarly, I have seen where companies drop product lines and don't explain their thinking to their own people or their customers.
The second issue is to do with changing your brand positioning. If you plan to move down- market, be careful. To achieve cash margin, you need volume. And the lower end of the market is often highly competitive. Do you have the scale to sustain that strategy? By a country mile, it is more challenging to move your brand upmarket. Even though there is a trend across all industries where quality is increasing and 'premium is the new black', that's not to suggest that achieving it is easy. The ideas outlined above are just the tip of the iceberg, so tread carefully.