In the tumultuous terrain of the business world, companies often find themselves at critical junctures requiring a reassessment of their brand positioning strategies. These pivotal moments can often demand a rigorous reevaluation, revamping, or reinforcement of a company’s brand identity. A strategic realignment can be crucial for companies aiming to remain relevant, competitive, and resonant in the eyes of their evolving target audience amidst shifting landscapes. And whether grappling with declining prominence, market vulnerabilities, reputation challenges, or facing significant changes in mission or leadership, a well-executed brand positioning exercise emerges as a guiding beacon through these transformative phases.

Companies that Lost Brand Prominence

Seemingly overnight, companies can go from cutting-edge to on the brink of relevance in today’s hyper-competitive market. Engaging in a comprehensive brand positioning exercise becomes not just beneficial but essential for entities facing such challenges. Through a strategic realignment, such companies can reevaluate their relevance in the market, bridging the gap that emerged between their brand and the evolving consumer perceptions or shifting needs / expectations. This exercise enables the rediscovery of a unique identity, setting them apart from competitors and allowing them to create a compelling narrative that resonates with their audience. Furthermore, it grants an opportunity to adapt to ever-evolving consumer preferences, aligning their offerings with current trends and desires to regain consumer trust. In tandem, the exercise serves as a foundation for reputation recovery and trust-building by transparently addressing past shortcomings, focusing on integrity and value propositions. Ultimately, this endeavor isn’t merely a short-term fix but an investment in long-term sustainability, propelling these companies toward renewed relevance, differentiation, and enduring success in a challenging business environment.

Some prime examples of companies that missed the boat on pivoting and would have benefited from doing a positioning exercise: Nokia, once a dominant force in the mobile phone industry, struggled to innovate during the advent of smartphones. This case underscores the significance of timely brand repositioning aligned with technological shifts to maintain relevance in rapidly evolving markets.

Similarly, Blockbuster’s failure to foresee the burgeoning era of digital streaming, epitomized by Netflix, led to its downfall. A proactive brand positioning strategy embracing digital trends might have potentially salvaged Blockbuster’s relevance in the entertainment industry.

Companies Vulnerable to Market Shifts

Companies susceptible to market shifts are also ideal candidates for a brand positioning exercise owing to their vulnerability to rapid changes and evolving market dynamics. This exercise becomes a strategic tool, allowing these companies to proactively respond to emerging trends, technological advancements, or shifts in consumer behaviors. By engaging in brand positioning, they can assess their current market position, recognize strengths and weaknesses, and restructure their brand narrative (or identity) to better align with the evolving market landscape. It provides an avenue for differentiation, enabling these organizations to redefine their unique value propositions, create compelling messages, and establish a distinctive identity that stands out amidst market uncertainties. Ultimately, brand positioning can empower vulnerable companies to navigate market shifts, enhancing their adaptability and competitiveness in an ever-evolving business landscape.

Kodak’s ordeal during the digital photography revolution serves as a poignant example. Despite being a pioneer in digital technology, Kodak’s delayed brand repositioning towards digital solutions resulted in a significant loss of market share and forced into receivership (while damaging for reputation, but still an excellent opportunity for transformation). Likewise, Toys “R” Us encountered challenges from online retail giants like Amazon due to its slow adaptation to e-commerce. A more agile brand positioning strategy aligned with digital retail trends might have steered Toys “R” Us away from the threats posed by online competitors.

But on the flipside, an exemplary company that successfully rode out a market shift through a brand positioning exercise is Adobe: they evolved from selling boxed software to a subscription-based model with Adobe Creative Cloud. As the software industry shifted from traditional one-time software purchases to subscription-based models, Adobe recognized the evolving needs of its customer base and the changing landscape of software consumption. To adapt, Adobe underwent a substantial brand positioning exercise, transitioning from a company known for its boxed software sales to a subscription-based service with Creative Cloud.

This strategic shift not only changed Adobe’s revenue model but also redefined its relationship with customers. By embracing subscription-based services, Adobe offered customers continuous updates, enhanced features, and cloud-based collaboration tools. This move not only ensured a steady revenue stream for Adobe but also provided users with increased accessibility and flexibility.

Through effective brand positioning and communicating the value of the subscription model, Adobe successfully navigated the market shift. They turned what could have been a challenge into an opportunity to strengthen customer relationships, increase brand loyalty, and secure a leading position in the creative software industry. As a result, Adobe’s stock price soared, demonstrating the success of their brand repositioning strategy in capitalizing on a significant market shift.

Companies with Obsolete / Weak / Stale Brands

Never before have brands been under the microscope so much as they are today. People scrutinize every brand touch point – every word, every imagine, every color has to resonate with audiences or it brand loyalty can become compromised. If companies let their brands lapse and stagnate, they’ll inevitably face face challenges in connecting with contemporary consumers or retaining their existing customer base due to outdated perceptions or a lack of differentiation. Engaging in a brand positioning exercise offers an invaluable opportunity to redefine their identity, revamp messaging, and realign their offerings with current market demands. By assessing their strengths, weaknesses, and market positioning, these companies can identify unique value propositions and leverage them to rejuvenate their brand image. Additionally, this exercise allows for a strategic repositioning that sets them apart from competitors, enabling them to reclaim relevance and resonance with their target audience. For companies with obsolete or stale brands, a comprehensive brand positioning exercise serves as a catalyst for transformation, enabling them to regain traction, spark consumer interest, and reestablish themselves as vibrant, modern, and competitive entities in their respective industries.

Who could have benefitted from a bit (ok, a lot) of help? Sears, a once formidable retail giant, grappled with an outdated brand image that failed to resonate with modern consumers. A refreshed brand positioning strategy emphasizing innovation and superior customer experience might have prolonged Sears’ relevance in the retail market.

Similarly, JCPenney faced challenges due to a stale brand image that struggled to engage younger demographics. A strategic repositioning aimed at revitalizing its brand identity and connecting with a younger audience could have potentially reinvigorated the company.

But who did it right? Old Spice shifted from a stale brand to a strong one through a transformative brand positioning exercise in 2010. Their “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign featuring Isaiah Mustafa revitalized the outdated image, engaging younger audiences with humor and cultural relevance. Embracing interactive marketing and challenging masculinity stereotypes, Old Spice successfully redefined itself as youthful, witty, and appealing. This strategic repositioning propelled sales, turning the brand into a strong contender in the men’s grooming market.

Companies with a Poor Reputation

Companies grappling with a poor reputation could significantly benefit brand positioning exercise due to the critical need for rebuilding trust and credibility. A tarnished reputation often results from scandals, ethical breaches, or controversies, leading to eroded consumer confidence and negative perceptions. Engaging in a brand positioning exercise provides a strategic pathway for these companies to transparently address past issues, demonstrate accountability, and actively work towards restoring trust. By redefining their brand narrative, emphasizing ethical practices, and showcasing a renewed commitment to transparency and integrity, these companies can instigate a shift in public perception. Through targeted messaging and actions aligned with the revised brand positioning, they can exhibit genuine change, laying the groundwork for reputation recovery. 

Think of this as a catalyst for rebuilding trust, repairing damaged relationships with stakeholders, and steering the company towards a path of redemption and credibility in the eyes of consumers and the public. BP’s mishandling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 inflicted severe reputational damage. A comprehensive brand positioning exercise focusing on transparency, sustainability, and rebuilding trust could have helped salvage BP’s damaged brand image. Another example is Wells Fargo, amidst a series of scandals, encountered reputational challenges affecting customer trust. A robust brand positioning strategy emphasizing transparency and ethical practices might have aided in restoring the bank’s credibility.

But here’s a positive example of a company that course-corrected: Volkswagen, marred by the emissions scandal in 2015, underwent a strategic repositioning, emphasizing sustainability, electric vehicles, and ethical practices. With a renewed focus on transparency and environmental stewardship, Volkswagen aimed to regain consumer trust and credibility. This shift showcased a commitment to change, steering the company toward a more responsible and eco-conscious image, vital in repairing its damaged reputation.

Companies with a Significant Change in Mission

When a company experiences a material change in mission, there is an imperative need to align their brand with the revised mission. A shift in mission can signal a transformation in core values, goals, or target audience, necessitating a corresponding adaptation in brand positioning. Such changes could stem from mergers, acquisitions, or a fundamental redefinition of the company’s purpose. Engaging in a brand positioning exercise enables these companies to communicate their new mission effectively, realigning their brand narrative, visual identity, and messaging with the revised objectives. This exercise ensures consistency and authenticity in presenting the transformed mission to internal and external stakeholders. By articulating the updated values and aspirations, companies can better resonate with consumers, employees, and investors, fostering trust and loyalty.

For instance, under Steve Jobs’ leadership, Apple underwent a significant mission shift, transitioning from a computer company to an innovator in consumer electronics and lifestyle products. This transformation involved a strategic brand repositioning exercise that redefined Apple’s brand identity, emphasizing innovation, design, and user experience.

By contrast, following a significant change in mission with its acquisition by Verizon, Yahoo failed to undergo a comprehensive brand positioning exercise. While the acquisition aimed to integrate Yahoo into Verizon’s digital media strategy, there was no clear effort to reposition Yahoo’s brand identity to align with this new mission. The lack of a focused brand positioning exercise resulted in a fragmented brand image, with Yahoo’s identity and messaging remaining disconnected from Verizon’s broader vision. This failure to reposition the brand after the significant mission change hindered Yahoo’s ability to convey a unified message and capitalize on the synergies envisioned through the acquisition.

As we’ve learned in the first part of this series, strategic brand positioning is indispensable for companies navigating transformative phases. By proactively realigning what their brand stands for in the minds of its audiences, companies can effectively adapt to changing landscapes, connect with evolving consumer needs, revitalize their appeal, rebuild trust, and successfully steer through diverse transitions. Embracing brand positioning as a guiding compass empowers companies to not only survive but thrive amidst transformations, ensuring relevance, resilience, and sustained growth in today’s dynamic business environment. We continue this riveting analysis in the second part of this series, where we further explore other common transformative scenarios during which companies may find unique opportunities to reimagine their brands and benefit from stronger positioning.

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