If you aren’t disrupting your business model, someone else will – Jim Carroll

Home > Column: "Don't be a one night brand"

Column: "Don't be a one night brand"

hugh-hefner-jung.jpg>by Jim Carroll, CAMagazine, August 2009

When you travel like I do, you spend a lot of time reading. One ofthe recent books on my list provides a fascinating look back at the 1950s and ’60s: Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream. (No, I didn’t buy it for the pictures, because there are very few.)

I was struck by one paragraph about how Hef worked very hard in the early years to get advertisers on side. He was initially met with resistance, for obvious reasons, but he persisted and eventually succeeded at signing up some of the “leading brands of the time.”

Just what were those brands? Crosswinds House beach towels, Scintella Satin BedSheets, the Lektrostat Record Cleaning Kit, Mansfield Holiday II 8-mm cameras, Leslie Record Racks, Electro-Voice Musicaster loudspeakers, the Ronson Electric Shaver, Max Factor crew-cut hair dressing and the Rogers “Rocket Flame” cigarette lighter. And let’s not forget Merrin Gold Jewelry and the Batch Book, “a new and modern address book that lets you list every pertinent detail — the surest way to avoid social errors.”

Those brands aren’t exactly household names today; in fact, very few of them still exist. Some disappeared due to changing societal norms, others due to technological change. Some probably just ran out of steam.

Brands disappear for a variety of reasons: think Enron, E.F. Hutton and Woolco. Brands can also stick around and become tarnished, losing respect in the eyes of the customer because of a series of missteps. My own client list includes organizations such as Chrysler, Motorola and the US Army Corps of Engineers — brands that for a variety of reasons have lost respect in the marketplace.

Is your brand at risk? That’s a key question, because corporate brands today are no longer guaranteed longevity in the marketplace. They can disappear because of obsolescence, competition and business model change, or simply because, as we have seen of late, failure and error.

Brands now also have to contend with the potentially lethal challenge of social networks. Pizza chain Dominoes quickly discovered how much harm social network “terrorism” can do when employees posted a damaging video on YouTube in which they were less than reverent with customers’ food.

It is isn’t just the risk of events like this that can threaten a brand. People are extremely busy chatting online — on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere– about the brands that they like, and the ones they dislike.
Consider the effort one customer put into a self-created commercial for US based grocery store Trader Joe’s.

All of a sudden, organizations are discovering a reality that I’ve been pointing out for years: a brand is no longer what you say it is — it’s what they say it is.

Think about your brand, whether you are in public practice, consulting or the corporate sector. Does your brand still resonate? I often talk to my clients about the need for constant brand innovation and challenge them days.” Better yet, I ask them if their brand looks tired because it is tired.

Many people don’t spend much time thinking about branding, but it is becoming more important considering how quickly perceptions can change. Here’s how you should challenge your thinking.

  • Recognize that brand longevity is a critical issue.
  • Ensure that everyone in the organization is relentlessly focused on the currency of the brand.
  • Make sure that continuous brand innovation is part of your corporate mantra.
  • Be incessantly focused on the innovations that are most likely to impact your brand.


  • Video: The impact of social networking on brands
  • How a customer sees Trader Joe’s
  • Blog post: Is your brand from the olden days?

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