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Marketing Works! (the Brand turnaround episode)

As a marketer starting out, the lesson to remember throughout your career  is to stay humble.  And even though you might put 100% effort into a project, sometimes for reasons out of your control or circumstances that you can control - you still need the agility and humility to change path! Because, It’s often for the better. 


Episode 027 TOPICS:


  • Why do brands do the right things and still fail?

  • Reaching the brink of brand extinction

  • Businesses that managed to come back even stronger

  • The Power of Nostalgia works for a while if you get it right 

  • Learnings from Richard Shotton - author The Choice Factory and Katy Perry !

Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed.

27. Marketing Works! (The Brand Turnaround Episode)


Don’t Talk About Apple


Today we’re going to talk about brand turnarounds. And who comes to mind when we talk about brand turnarounds? Actually, wait for that, I’m going to answer my own question there, I don’t want you to cover the usual suspects that have been done to death. That means Apple, Netflix, Marvel, Lego- they’re all off the table, but I do think we can learn a lot from brand turnarounds, what do you think?



Yeah, ok, we can’t talk about those, let’s raise the bar and make it interesting for the listeners. 



Good. But I think one of the things that strikes me is that you look at some of these brand turnarounds, some of them are about timing, some of it is about securing an environment to help find extra support, some of its about taking an essence of an idea, flipping it, and everything you’ve worked on might seem like good, but you might have to chuck most of it away and look at things in a different way. It was really interesting after listening back to last week’s show and hearing some of the comments, I was reading a Medium article by a guy called Lorenzo De Plano, he went from a hundred thousand dollar debt to selling his business for sixteen million dollars by the time he was twenty five, so, some pretty interesting stuff, It’s a good article, we should post the link.

But he had some good advice on what to do and what not to do on that entrepreneurial journey, which ties in with the last two podcasts. It’s a good read but the thing that stood out for me was he said, “diversity is key, if everyone in your office is male and under twenty-five, you’re going to have a narrow outlook”, he also talked about the fact that you have to kill your ego. And that got me thinking I wonder how many brands haven’t come back from the edge of extinction because they refused to kill their ego, and it could be the brands, or it could be the CEO or someone in charge of the CEO. So, I thought of a quick quiz, Sam, just to start us off.


Quizzes, Bad Food and Barbie

First question, which company was on the edge of bankruptcy, losing one billion dollars a year and is now the most valuable, or at least the second most valuable company in the world? but, you’re not allowed to answer that one because clearly it’s Apple and we said we weren’t going to talk about that one. 



I was silent for a reason there because I was told I wasn’t allowed to say it and then Chris said it! 



Good. Now, this one is completely left field. So, which American food chain made a successful come back after killing four children? It’s a brand called Jack In The Box. After eating contaminated hamburgers, I’m going to say this allegedly because I’ve only checked it from one source, but four children died and more than one hundred and seventy five people were hospitalised but they now sell five hundred and fifty four million tacos a year in the US so, for me that pretty much says anything is possible, Sam, to turn around a situation and I thought that we should look at brand turnarounds today and see where we get to. 



Yeah, every year we look at multiple industries and we do see those turnarounds. I’m thinking in food and the US brand Chipotle had a few health issues and turned that around, and on a common regular basis the automobile brands; unfortunately, they do have recalls they do have brand crisis and they do manage to repair their reputation, so, it is a big topic there Chris and it happens on a frequent basis so, it hugely relevant to our audience. And you gave me those two examples of turnarounds, there’s one example I can think of that I’ve just seen a huge surge of love and respect for that is part and parcel of many childhoods globally and has been for a number of years. I’m seeing more and more stories about Barbie. 

In the last few years than ever before, there’s so much great commentary, so much great narrative about that brand and it’s as if the Me Too era was part of the catalyst to become relevant and current again. The brand has taken multiple steps to show up in an empowering, collusive and a cherished way, it’s working. As of the end of 2019 in terms of sales, sales grew three percent in the first quarter of 2019, it actually grew nine percent overall in 2019 to one point two billion dollars, the highest sales, gross sales they’ve seen in over six years. The CEO is a guy called Ynon Kreiz, he’s on record saying ‘our purpose as a company is to empower the next generation to explore the wonder of childhood and reach their full potential’. And you cannot imagine a better flag carrier for that purpose than Barbie, in terms of promoting diversity and inclusion, empowering and celebrating women as role models. 

So, what I love about Barbie is that they’re delivering on that agenda, they’ve for example introduced a gender-neutral doll, there’s the Barbie fashionistas line, the Barbie wellness collection and a judge Barbie. I really love the fact that they’re serving up the new news in a very purposeful and relevant way. For example, launching new dolls to coincide with women’s history month, for example, you’ve got Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Jean King, Florence Nightingale alongside people like Sally Ride, who was a challenger astronaut and Rosa Parks, and I don’t need to tell you more about Rosa Parks hopefully. There’s also  proof points though, I bring up Rosa Parks as they’re truly engaging black culture in a real way, for example black history month, they’ve recently worked with a costume designer called Shiona Turini who recently worked on the Queen & Slim film, which came out at the end of 2019, and she outfitted a set of ten barbies in ten different skin tones, body types and hairstyles, hairstyles with braids and finger waves and afro and more, they were black Barbies, these were black dolls, really representing the culture and the people  in an authentic and real way. 

There’s a live action filming development featuring Margot Robbie, and yes, the Margot Robbie who’s just played a DC action hero Harley Quinn, so there’s clearly an understanding of who to put in that role and to personify this brand and carry it forward for the next generation of kids. I can imagine if you’re in the sales organisation you’re now telling a completely different story, yes pricing, promotions, displays are all relevant but you’re actually talking about the symbolism and significance of representing women in a light and empowering way. You’ve got characters and dolls who are truly global, you’ve got role models such as the Turkish windsurfing champion Cagla Kubat, a chef Helene Darroze, Chinese actor Xiaotong Guan, British boxing champion Nicola Adams, so, you get my point here. They’re actually covering the world and representing women as boxers, as chefs, as astronauts, as windsurfers so, these aren’t just male role models, they’re showing women doing it as well. 



Yeah, good stuff, that’s a great story actually. And it seems strange now doesn’t it? You think back now to the stereotype, one dimensional product that was synonymous with children’s toys and how outdated that seems now. When you need a diverse approach, and it’s good that they’ve grasped that and dealt with that rather than see it go into nonexistence. Well, I’m going to raise your Barbie story and I’m going to talk about a category and not a product. 

So, do you know what is poised to have a massive comeback? According to The Hustle, which I love by the way, it’s glass. Good old fashioned glass. Glass makers are hoping that there’s going to be a backlash, which there is, against single-use plastic and returning old-school bottles to the throne, in Hustle’s own words, or at least at the top of our recycling heap. Now, plastic absolutely trashed glasses grip on the market back in 1975. Fifty eight percent of all soda came in glass bottles, today it’s just one percent, which is an amazing decrease over the time period. Plastic, meanwhile, went from nought percent to almost thirty three percent in that same time period. Now, clearly, today plastic is practically taboo and certainly in the UK and I can imagine that would be the case in the US as well, so there may be an opportunity for glass makers here since their products give longer shelf life and the bottles can be refilled and recycled time and time again.

So, you can absolutely see how that is an opportunity to seize the initiative, but here’s the rub though, the number of glass making plants in the US plummeted alongside the decrease in demand for glass bottles and decreased by sixty five percent since 1983. I think that’s a really, really important lesson here, that you have to line up not only your idea but the logistics to take advantage of the trend. There are many ideas that go, you know what we need to change or there’s an opportunity here but actually what goes on beneath the surface hasn’t been round up. And that’s a good example. But if you are on the edge of extinction, what do you do? And actually, sometimes it’s about luck, sometimes it’s about being planned, isn’t that right, Sam? 

The Mindset Shift


Yeah, you’re absolutely right and as you’re talking about that Chris and talking about glass there’s been a huge mindset shift in the past few months. So, if you’re a brand or a company looking in from the side-line, if you’re not taking action, planning, changing your supply chain, making efforts, you’re going to be found out as the market comes back to glass, if you’re vested in plastic then you’re part of the problem not part of the solution. If done well, glass is about recyclable and a durable product.

I lived in Germany for about three or four years and I recall from my time there that glass drinks bottles were essentially all recycled, bottles would always look worn and used, that was fine, because that was the way things should be, that was the way things were, it wasn’t perfect and pristine, but used and real, and it perhaps reflected older times of how you would reuse and recycle and be ok with things not being pristine and perfect. You brought up the 70’s and 80’s and it reminds me that a tried and tested technique for succeeding for turning around and bringing things back is to go for nostalgia.

Now, I’ve worked on brands where, to be honest, the product lines have been aging, there’s been less or very limited investing and you still need to hit your numbers as a marketer. You still have to be successful, it’s a tough space to be in, and it comes back to things we’ve spoken about on this show - it's to change the benefit story, change the story you’re telling consumers. I recall on the Kenmore brand, which is an appliance brand in the US, for those less familiar, we took a multi-pronged approach, to turn nostalgia, turn it away from looking back at Grandma’s brand, this brand had been around for over a hundred years, but let’s turn it towards a ‘no place like home’ sentiment. We created a space called the Kenmore live studio, which was a community meeting space and content studio and it was an experience for the brand, where the product was able to prove to you that it wasn’t what you perceived, we actually provoked people to take a closer look, to come up close, to look at the badge and be like ‘wow, that’s actually a Kenmore’ they thought it was another brand and we got them to think again about that American brand in a new way, we went all in on content creation and created a little production house cooking up some content, some good, some bad but all with the intention of chipping away at old perceptions.

And so, the turnaround isn’t just a one and done, you’ve got to work at it. There was money I remember giving to a social media manager to address customer service issues and again, to help solve business challenges and real issues consumers we’re facing, but look, the brand’s since been sold off, and the parent company has shrunk significantly, but there’s still a brand that over a hundred years later, it’s still in place, it’s still winning. And we actually had an episode a few episodes ago, I think episode 19? Which talked a bit about this in terms of marketing the remix, recycle, reuse, what goes around comes back around, so, check out that episode, number 19, if you want to take a deeper dive into this area.



Yeah, good shout. And in the late nineties there was a British shoemaker R Griggs group that bought the rights of Dr Martens shoes and boots, or DM’s as they’re more commonly known, but that’s as common in the US as it is in the UK, isn’t it Sam? 



Yeah, Dr Martens is a fashion brand that you see and credible and fashionable. 



Yeah, but in the late nineties, they started making modifications after they bought the group and their sales decreased so much that many outlets were closed and then in 2004 it re-emerged again, and by 2012 there was a resurgence again, back to that episode of remix, recycle, reuse where we talk about fashion, and these trends come back around, but it was actually named as the eighth fastest growing company in great Britain in 2012. It then subsequently got sold for three hundred million pounds which sounds like a good amount, I’m presuming there was a nice healthy profit there to a private equity group called Permira, thirty billion pound group, and interestingly since then, there’s been a rumbling of complaints, sometimes in the media, sometimes on forums, about loss of quality and a change of production and a change in standards of what you expect from your good old DM boot. 

Now, clearly, Dr Martens denies this, and sometimes the important point is that this can be about perception rather than reality. The old, it was better in the old days mentality. But interestingly, out today, only two percent of shoes are manufactured in England, everything else moved to Asia, and there’s complaints that they’re not as robust as they once were, and I think some of it may be quality and some of it may be loss of that heritage as well. but the bit that I think is fascinating is that the chief Exec, a man called Kenny Wilson, he clearly rejects the allegations saying that they produce about eleven million shoes a year and that they have a really low rate of defect, about point five percent of the total, and of course they’re trying to reflect on and look at customer feedback, everything you would expect him to be saying. But I don’t think that anyone cares about the point five percent defect, Sam, I think what they really care about is the heritage, the fact that they are still made in the UK? And the perception of whether the quality has changed or not. 

A little secret, Sam, there’s a company called Solovair which is a boot manufacturer in Northamptonshire, that took everyone from one of the factories when they moved all of the production from Asia and they were a factory that were licensed to make DM boots and they’re now making boots with pretty much everyone from that factory, and again, the social media rumblings all say that those boots are great. Now, clearly, DMs are still a fashion icon and still doing well worldwide and the business probably did the right thing reducing their costs by looking at operation, but perhaps they didn’t listen hard enough to their customers, interesting point there, Sam.

Was Simon Sinek Right?


Yeah, potentially they didn’t there, Chris. It’s sometimes counter intuitive, a major mistake I see when you think you’re doing the right thing is to be so entrenched with the success and momentum of the past and not constantly seeking dissenting voices to challenge you about what you should do in the future. One key failure point that I see Chris, as I think more about this, is regarding metrics and the measurement. I read an excellent article from Think With Google on measurement, and there’s three blind spots and practices I often get into trouble and I point out that people are perhaps doing, looking at the data in isolation is a key one and not seeing the bigger picture, I’ve seen too many times the markets been defined in a way that excludes, well, basically, the bad news. It masks the trend but when you add in that segment that’s different, or you include the people that would rather stream than go in stores to rent a movie, well, you suddenly see that, that segment is growing faster growing the category, and that’s where your customers are going. Obviously I’m telling the story of Netflix, I don’t think I was supposed to mention that, but anyway, versus Blockbuster

I recall another example of when it comes to measurement on working on the Kenmore brand, when the focus comes to traditional and effectiveness measures, and a new upstart called Ace Metrix came along and they told a different story, they were using ad measurement and ad evaluation based on a panel of real people in real time. It was completely different to this set and forget it mindset that we were using, and it was giving different data, giving different results and there was this resistance to this new measure, but looking back now this new measurement with real people and real data was completely in the right direction. 

So, the point here is that too often the focus is on the what and not the why and if I see another dashboard that’s only full of quant numbers - I am going to scream because rarely do those score cards actually tell you the why. There’s actually research that indicates trying to address increased customer retention by perhaps giving out lower pricing plans to customers, to keep them, you actually may trigger those customers to start doing price comparisons and actually you accelerate them leaving your brand, so giving them more cheaper options may help them leave faster than what you intended. 



Did I just hear you say why not how Sam? You’ve changed. 



Ok, fair point Chris. Getting to insight is absolutely about the why. How matters, but to get to that real insight you’ve got to ask why multiple times. There’s a superficial understanding of why the consumer buys. We’re actually really bad at realising the bias in our system, in our decision making and the bias that often exists in marketing. There’s a fab book on this by a guy called Richard Shotton, he’s a Brit and he wrote a book called The Choice Factory and one of my favourite examples is the challenge of relying on claimed data versus observed data. 

So, if you’re trying to view Facebook, and you look at Katy Perry fans, you would actually assume that most of her fans are female, and if you’re selling tickets or selling products, you’d probably target female Katy Perry fans or females in general, but if you look at the streaming data for Katy Perry, you’d actually see that she’s in the top ten for men and women. It’s just that women are more likely to claim that they’re fans of Katy Perry, so, again, the ownness there is to explain the contradiction on the data and make a small savvy decision of what it means and factor that into the strategy you adopt. I think we’re going to do a show on behavioural economics in the future. It’s a growing and insight packed area.



Yeah and it plays such a big role in so many different areas. Pricing, user experience, and how psychology really has merged with marketing. Interesting, I haven’t checked but it would be fascinating to look at how many academic classes now include marketing and behavioural economics and probably science-based stuff as well. 

Part 2 of the Quiz


Let’s go.



Which well known brand started off as a dating site? YouTube. Interesting, hey? Which cosmetic company started out as a bookseller? Avon. So, they started out as a bookseller who attracted buyers with perfume samples before pivoting to launch a cosmetics company, and a rather successful one at that. Here’s a good one. What was the first iteration of Twitter? Twitter began as a podcasting platform before it pivoted. And final, final question, what company with the strapline “kiss a little longer” pivoted twice before becoming successful? Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum. Started out as a soap company that gave away free baking powder, then pivoted to a baking powder company that gave away free gum and then pivoted again to focus on the gum. 



Wow, lots of pivoting there, Chris. But it seems like that’s just a fundamental part of the mindset of being a marketer, being able to pivot has got to be in the DNO of most companies because it’s the truth from those examples you just shared. 



I think the point with all of these is, forget the business imperative, it starts with the ability to say, we got this wrong, I think there’s a better opportunity out there. And also, back to when we talked about cash flow, imagine if twitter had stuck with podcasting. It could have been struggling for the last ten years and suddenly everyone goes, wow that Twitter is ahead of it’s game focused on podcasting, if it managed to sort out the cash flow. So as a marketer starting out, the lesson has to be to be humble, even though you might put one hundred percent of effort into a project or somethings out of your control, or even within your control you still need to be able to change path, often for the better and give it one hundred percent as well. 



So, what you’re describing Chris, means that we require an outside in mindset, and not the other way around. Asking what does the customer care about and focusing on that, not what the brand or the company makes or caring about that more, the customer needs to be in the centre. I think the proof points from this are brands such as Always with their Like A Girl campaign, and Dove’s self-esteem project and the campaign for real beauty and then the Barbie story that I was talking about eerier, looking back now it’s crystal clear that all of those represent cultural and societal shifts. The brands have to be aware of and have to meet, and if they choose not to, then they’re going to become obsolete. Simply put, you either shift or reflect the values of today or you hold onto what worked in the past, but the market will ultimately decide. But nowadays, the market can move in months or weeks, not decades or years. 



Yeah, that’s a good point, Sam. Well made as usual. And I think we’re at the end of the session today, really enjoyed it, lots covered. 


Today’s Three Key Takeaways


So, I’d say the three key takeaways of this week’s show are 

  1. Firstly, change. Having that pivot mindset is so critical, it's part of the DNA of marketers and we should remember that. 

  2. The second one is optimism. Believing you can turn a brand around, believing you can turn to growth and we gave some examples there. and then.

  3. Thirdly, it’s about progress. The market will evolve, the consumer will evolve, culture will absolutely evolve and if you’re not part of that progress you’re obsolete. 



Yeah, absolutely. And talking of being obsolete, episode 28, we’re going to talk about your personal brand. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, we’ve sort of discussed over the last few episodes about entrepreneurs or whether you’re a marketeer within a company, we’re going to show why having a personal brand matters and give a couple of contrary views as to its role as well, within the marketing mix now. It’s going to be good Sam.  


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