Editor's View February 2018

Pitfalls Of Change In Branding

“Change” is constant and inevitable. The “Brand Bravery” article in this issue explores the need for constant updating of product lines within brands to keep up with changing times. However, as much as there are upsides to change, there can be downsides as well if the responses to the need for change aren’t appropriate for the brand, its retailers and its consumer customers.
Broadly speaking, there are at least three areas in which a consumer customer, who had previously been loyal to brand, can be lost—whether the brand is the retailer itself, a private label line, a licensed line or an in-house supplier brand.
• Change in quality. Online consumer reviews can be very revealing. It seems to me that what most negative reviews are about is quality—or the lack of it. I often come away with the impression that consumers would rather pay a few dollars more for something durable that performs well than save a few bucks only to have the purchased item fall apart in a few months. Quality is important in the long term to many of your customers.
And if you think as a retailer or supplier that reducing the quality in an existing item or line will go unnoticed, online reviews can prove otherwise. Customers frequently write that they vow never to purchase from the product line again once they have been “burned” with an item they’ve previously enjoyed that now has been lowered in quality.
I’ve declined purchasing items when I have felt the quality level wasn’t worth the price—even though the price was affordable. Just because the consumer can afford the item doesn’t mean they believe the item is worth what is being charged.
• Change in design or style. Brands need to update their offerings constantly as the demand for “something new” continues to accelerate. However, if the updating of a brand goes too far and the designs offered no longer reflect the core brand perspective to which the loyal fan was drawn, you’re going to lose a customer.
I’ve had the experience more than once of an apparel brand changing its sizing, materials and designs to the extent that the products were no longer suitable for me. Significant reinventions in brand direction need to include an evaluation not only of how many new customers might be gained, but of how many existing ones will be lost with the changes.
• Change in pricing. Subtle pricing adjustments in line with cost of living increases may be accepted by most consumers. However, upping the price noticeably or eliminating previous discounts or coupons is a tricky business.
Significant price increases need to be accompanied by a perception that the consumer is getting more, a new-and-improved version, better service, etc. for that added money. It’s too easy today for consumers to shop around and find other brands or non-branded alternatives that suit their view of good value.
As a consumer, I’ve seen prices raised when quality has declined in some instances and prices raised even when the quality has stayed the same. I’ve either abandoned the brand or, if the brand was one I found difficult to replace, I’ve purchased fewer items from the line.
The passage of time does not guarantee progress, nor is all change for the better.