Five Deadly Sins of Brand Complacency

Some of us are deceived to believe that many of the larger, well-known brands have everything figured out.

Many of them do. But the others? Well, read on. Below are some higher-profile brands that were, at one time, leaders in their respective industries, and today are struggling to survive from a history of complacency. There is a lot we can all learn from each of them.

Harley Davidson

It was nineteen years ago when I was at a Business Marketing Association event where Harley Davidson’s CMO shared the company’s strategy for making the Harley brand more appealing to younger riders.

Harley had legitimate reasons to be concerned. At the time, the average age of a Harley rider was approximately 43, and many other motorcycle manufacturers entering the market were taking giant bites into Harley’s younger-demographic market share by offering higher-performing, better-built, higher-tech, and more reliable motorcycles at much lower price points. And to attract those who liked the looks and lines of a Harley Davidson, some manufacturers built bikes strikingly similar in looks and design, competing on price, technology, build quality, service and warranty. It was no secret these were direct and unapologizing hits to the Harley brand.

And despite numerous, aggressive branding and marketing strategies to counter these competitive attacks over the years, the average age of a Harley rider continues to rise. The Harley Davidson brand is running out of time to retool its brand.

KODAK

In the world of photography, KODAK was the undisputed industry leader for many years, that is, until camera manufacturers Canon, Nikon and FUJI introduced digital cameras, rendering KODAK’s film cameras irrelevant and nearly obsolete. As I remember many people commenting after the purchase of their first digital cameras, I don’t need to pay for any more film or wait for my prints to be developed! I can shoot a thousand photos for free and just get them on a CD! Stubbornly, KODAK didn’t invest into digital technology because the lion’s share of their profits came from sales of their own film. By the time they caved in and offered their own line of digital cameras, it was much too late. Today, KODAK is one of the smallest fish in a very large ocean of many different camera brands.  

CRAFTSMAN, BLACKBERRY AND GARMIN

Craftsman tools, at one time, were thought of as the best brand of tools to own for those who weren’t professional mechanics or wealthy enough to pay several hundred dollars for a small collection of wrenches. Unfortunately, quality has suffered and they are not as durable as they once were. Today, Craftsman tools no longer have any relevant brand advantages over DeWalt, Ace or Stanley.

And remember Blackberry? I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one other than in a print advertisement more than a year ago. The final straw occurred when customers painfully suffered through a three-day interruption in service. Not to worry – competitors gladly came to the rescue by offering disgruntled Blackberry owners deep discounts on trade-in programs.

Do you have a Garmin mounted on your windshield? Why would you when newer cars come with built-in GPS units and smartphones that have as-good-as, or even better navigation technology that is free?

The Five Deadly Sins  

In my experience, research, and in my unwavering belief, one of the leading reasons major brands struggle or ultimately fail is due to complacency, brought on by years of success, profitability and market dominance.

For brand complacency leads to the five following sins…

  1. Failure to innovate, or at least introduce new products that satisfy minimum customer expectations. When Canon recently released a long-awaited update of their prosumer 6Dii camera, angry and bewildered photographers headed to forums, blogs and social media criticizing the leading camera manufacturer for releasing a product with three-year-old technology. Many called it the “last straw” and vowed to sell their gear to invest in a better camera system. As one person stated, “It’s like buying an expensive brand-new car and discovering that it doesn’t have Bluetooth!”
  2. Ignoring trends and waiting too long to see how they play out. You’re likely familiar with the saying that there are three kinds of people – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what just happened. Which one are you?
  3. Not paying attention to what the competition is up to. Every day that goes by, your competitors are one day closer to launching a new product or service to make yours less relevant.
  4. Not listening to internal and external customers. Customers are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Yelp, YouTube, Vimeo, glassdoor, blogs, and forums. They are filling out surveys and sending emails. They are talking about your products and your services. Are you listening? Many are not.
  5. Loss of agility. One of my favorite quotes comes from Christopher McDougall, who said: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” In other words, if your company moves more like a sloth than a lion or gazelle, you’re already defeated.

Every large brand has a following of loyal customers. Some will be patient, others will not. But very few will wait around forever. I hope all of these brands find their way back into the spotlight once again.