Eat Dust, Dot-Coms

Last week I discussed how the great superbrands have become anachronisms in the face of dot-com brands’ meteoric rise. The brand pioneers seem to be languishing in offline limbo, gathering dust on supermarket shelves. This week I’d like to take a look at how we can dust these great entities off and restore their lustre.

Let’s define what it is that’s causing the classic brands to fade. I reckon there are five main reasons for the struggle:

Their product development cycles are too long.

The organizational structure of their parent companies is too inflexible.

Being so well-established, their brand platforms aren’t geared for innovation.

Their organizations aren’t attracting energetic new staff.

They’re arrogant.

As I mentioned last week, Gillette took 10 years to develop Mach3, and LEGO, until recently, took 5 years to develop new toys. Product-development cycles of such longevity can’t possibly introduce exciting new products to the eager consumer. A toy idea might be revolutionary today, but if it takes five years before it sees the light of day, it’s unlikely, in these times of rapid innovation, that the concept will be surprising in half-a-decade’s time.

Let me just ask you a simple question: How will the Internet look five years from now? Before answering, just remember that the World Wide Web didn’t even exist several years ago. And now look! Something new, which you and I could never predict, is likely to appear tomorrow and revolutionize the world as we know it. So how could we realistically forecast Internet developments with any certainty? The moral of the story is, of course, that it’s impossible to stun the consumer world with inventiveness if it takes five years to reach fruition – unless we’re talking about building airplanes or rockets.

Such ponderous product development reflects inflexible organizational structures. Most of the great brands are run by huge organizations that, over time, have inherited bureaucracies and the leaden policies they often promulgate. The resulting inflexibility leaves little play for innovation and invites far too much process and protocol.

The classic brands’ platforms were developed decades ago, adjusted frequently, but very seldom reinvented. It’s time for most of the old brand platforms to reconsider their strategies. They need to reinvent their platforms by analyzing their core values, assessing the anachronisms in them, and reshaping them to speak meaningfully to consumers along multiple communication channels.

At the basis of this stagnation is the superbrands’ lack of new and energetic staff. An injection of new-economy marketing nous might just introduce stable but flagging brands to rejuvenated corporate thinking. The list of the top 100 most attractive companies to work for in the United States has changed dramatically over the past five years. A number of technology brands have squeezed their way to the top as well as great established brands that have conquered the reinvention challenge, like Charles Schwab. Scarily, a frightening number of superbrand organizations have lost their favoured positions on the list. As surely as this is a signal that discourages bright new candidates from seeking employment with these companies, it’s a warning light to those businesses that flashes the message: “Some self-analysis is called for.”

So why have the surperbrands’ organizations been so seemingly reluctant to heed this warning? In a word, arrogance. Superbrands are superbrands because they have been, well, super. They’ve surpassed all others in their long climb to robust market dominance. So why should they have ever considered reinventing their marketing platforms and the core values that they communicate? The good news is that many brands are shaking themselves free of this complacency. The bad news is that the price of that arrogance-induced torpor has been high. So extravagantly high in some cases that those brands will never regain the market kingdoms of which they were once kings and queens.

So, what are you waiting for out there, you superbrands? Get up, get behind the wheel, and make those dot-coms eat dust.


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