Everything – and every brand – has a life cycle: birth, growth, maturity, and yes, even death. But is there an afterlife for better-for-you brands? Can brands that have succumbed to market forces, competitors, indifferent consumers, and trends be resuscitated?
The answer is yes. It’s possible to re-animate a dying BFY brand. We’ve helped make it happen. And it’s hard work.
Before considering how that happens, let’s first understand the lifecycle of a BFY brand.
Better-for-You Brands: The Brand Life Cycle
In David Lemley’s new book, Beloved & Dominant Brands, he documents the three primary phases of a BFY brand’s life span. (Can you identify where your brand sits on this trajectory at this moment?)
First & Only
A visionary leader creates a new product that addresses a particular lifestyle aspiration or nutritional needs. Buoyed by the enthusiastic response among friends and family, she turns the product into a business (let’s call this Original Brand). Original Brand catches fire, attracting a devoted tribe of fans and early-adopting retailers. The founder can see a bright future — if her fledgling company can generate enough product to meet demand.
The business is fully in startup mode. The charismatic founder has immense sway. Her growing celebrity opens all the right doors to retailers, influencers, media.
The entrepreneurial high is intoxicating, but it comes with risks. The small leadership team is inhaling their own fumes; they’re not paying attention to the rest of the world, not looking forward.
The greatest threat we see to First & Only-stage brands comes from within. The founder thinks she knows better than her top partners and advisors, because her idea was proven right. She’s survived the immense effort it took to bring the brand to life, found success, and developed an outsized confidence. She’s pretty much uncoachable at this point.
The First & Only stage of a brand is typically brief — as short as one retail cycle (4 months) and no longer than 2 years. And then the brand becomes …
Beloved by Default
Seeing Original Brand’s success, another company, then another, enters the market with similar products. Owing to its primacy in the market, the passion of its loyalists, and the uniqueness of its story, Original Brand continues to dominate the category by default … for awhile.
In this phase, there’s widespread acceptance of the founder’s innovative idea; Original Brand is the proof-of-concept example in every competitor’s pitch deck to investors. The company may be making a modest profit, securing more shelf space, generating great velocity.
In the Beloved by Default stage, the greatest threats we see for brands come from the outside. Retail partners start asking, “What else do you have?” They know that competing products are coming — in fact, they’re probably working on a store-brand knockoff. Yet the brand’s leadership, impressed with their own success, hasn’t even considered what’s next.
Too, external pressure creates supply chain problems. Following a big launch, Original Brand may not have capacity to meet growing demand. If a big-box retailer comes knocking, the brand can’t possibly fulfill that order. The company will need significant funding to meet the opportunity in front of it.
BFY brands typically spend a year in this stage. So now Original Brand is about 2 years old and is on its way to …
One of Many
Seeking to capitalize on Original Brand’s popularity, other players join the game. Retailers launch private label versions. Big Food companies create cheap knockoffs. Suddenly, Original Brand is relegated to the bottom shelf by store managers eager to promote the house- and big-brand products. Original Brand loses share as customers choose based on price rather than based on brand narrative.
Internal bias and inertia are the biggest threats to One of Many brands. The founder and leadership team think they’re still in First & Only mode, not realizing the landscape has changed completely — until they go to a trade show and are caught off-guard by the number of competing products. For them, it’s like being the last one to get the joke at a party.
For the first time in the company’s history, there’s pain. The organization has grown and carries operational challenges. Retailers are offering less-premium positions; consumers are balking at price. Original Brand is getting squeezed on both ends.
The brand risks becoming a desparately average CPG brand.
Some BFY brands languish a long time in this phase, overspending on advertising and retail promotion to chase dwindling returns. They try to market their way out of the problem — when instead, the solution lies in addressing the brand’s fundamental reason for being.
The Competitive Audit: Rescuscitating a Dying Brand
When One of Many brands come to us for guidance, our first step is a competitive audit. Our competitive audit benchmarks how the brand is performing in all seven marketing platforms of what we call the Brand Ecosystem. Without fail, this disciplined process charts a path toward the future after the brand’s near-death, One-of-Many experience.
We call this ideal state …
Beloved & Dominant
This is the sweet spot for a BFY brand, where it’s embraced by passionate fans who love not just the quality products, but also what the brand stands for in the world. Where consumers advocate for the brand using language that the brand itself has taught them.
It’s competition – and future-proof.
At Beloved & Dominant stage, Original Brand:
- Commands a premium price
- No longer competes on features and benefits
- Is the defining example of the category
- Gets tons of free media coverage
- Influences popular culture
At this stage, the brand is firing on all platforms of the Brand Ecosystem. Investors are calling. It’s a career-making success for the leadership team.
Where is your brand in the lifecycle? Do you know? If you’re afraid of the answer, let us help you. We can guide you forward, to Beloved & Dominant status.