For Maturing Brands, Get Your Head Out of Your Ads
Sales were surpassing expectations. MIDAZ,* the newest entry into the music software category, was getting rave reviews. This new platform was being heralded as a huge breakthrough. MIDAZ allowed music writers to eliminate the need for a computer keyboard because now all commands could be directed solely by touching designated piano keys. By no longer requiring song writers to understand complicated software platforms, musicians could now spend more creative energy writing and publishing songs. “Save time with the MIDAZ touch” had become the most successful direct response campaign in the category’s history.
Then, almost like someone flipped a switch, the parade of inbound orders was cut in half when a new competitor, VoiceKontrol,* introduced software that performed similar functions but through voice commands. MIDAZ quickly reacted with advertising that explained how much easier their software was to set up and learn. The company aggressively promoted the fact that, unlike competitive offerings, no microphone was needed and keyboard touch commands were far more accurate than their less reliable voice command counterparts. MIDAZ also blitzed their trade with ads and merchandising efforts featuring explanations of how easy the program was to use. They began a thirty day trial program and started discounting their price. But despite superior performance characteristics, month-to-month sales substantially slowed. Add to this, margins began to shrink.
A year passed. Sales and profits were now flat. The president turned to a branding expert for advice. Upon evaluating the situation, the expert reminded the president of Einstein’s theory of insanity, the one about continuing to do the same thing despite getting the same results.
“But we have changed our approach,” the President complained.
“Actually, you haven’t,” the consultant replied. “You still have your head in your ads.”
Taken aback, the president exclaimed, “Say again?!”
The consultant then explained that MIDAZ was no longer new and different, thanks to a competitor who was offering an acceptable substitute.
“In the beginning, all you had to do was talk about your advantage and the benefit of ease,” the consultant explained. “But now, you no longer own ease, and you are being forced to share it. Regardless of whether your benefit is stronger than the competition, the rules of the game have changed. Welcome to the next stage of your brand’s life cycle.”
“But how do we fix it?” management asked.
“First, don’t feel lonely,” the consultant said assuringly. “This is common for brands that have reached maturity.”
“Your brand is entrenched. It is no longer a shiny new object. ”
“You mean old,” the president lamented.
“Perhaps, but it certainly isn’t ready for the dustheap. In order to regain some lost vitality, your whole approach to marketing must change. You need to stop searching for that silver bullet logic that is going to prove once and for all that your product is superior to VoiceKontrol. ”
“But it is!” the president exclaimed.
“Assuming it is, at this stage the word is out about what your product does and how well it performs. Have you checked out forum reviews on the Internet lately?”
The president signaled the consultant to keep talking.
“Now that your sales have lost the pep they once had, consumers will respond more to you if they can identify with what MIDAZ stands for, it’s reason for existence. You need to help them experience the link between who “MIDAZ” is and what it does.
“I don’t get it,” the president said quizzingly. “Who? MIDAZ is a product, not a person.”
“Actually, it’s neither. It’s a brand. Currently one that acts more like a product, but should start acting more like a person,” the expert retorted. “Let me do some digging and I’ll get back to you with a better explanation of what I mean.”
One month later, the expert returned with results of an investigation he conducted. He started by reminding the president that many of his software engineers are musicians themselves. “The bad news for you is that many would rather have careers writing music than designing software,” he said. “However, the good news is that they are absolutely, completely, body-and-soul immersed in the world of music creation. They know firsthand what a struggling musician must deal with in order to get noticed, let alone gain fame.”
“So? I could have told you that,” the president said.
“Fact is, you don’t need to tell me. You need to tell your prospects and customers. You need to tell them that you know what it’s like to be who they are, what they believe in, and what they dream about.”
“Let VoiceKontrol continue hitting prospects over the head with technical facts that they can readily find out for themselves. Let them keep going for the head while you go for the heart. Put the emphasis on the meaning of MIDAZ beyond its functional product differences. Make the MIDAZ brand the hero of your story. Don’t stop talking about how MIDAZ works. But make product function and benefits the supporting characters of your brand’s story. Promote the MIDAZ cause and show that it is similar to the cause of people you’re selling to. Become the music writer’s advocate.”
The expert went on to explain that instead of bravado claims about product superiority, “put your energies into finding ways to convince prospects that what you believe is real and authentic. Provide social media content that can help musicians achieve their goals. Conduct music writing contests. Celebrate the works of up-and-coming music writers. Once you’ve landed on who MIDAZ is and why it exists, ideas on how to make the MIDAZ brand story come to life find themselves, naturally.
With that, MIDAZ replaced their claim based theme with a new advertising mantra, “Playing Should Be Easy Work.” Through its new marketing efforts, MIDAZ was never able to achieve the same growth rate it achieved during its introduction. But sales and profit charts again began pointing in a northerly direction.
[*No brands were hurt during the writing of this article. MIDAZ and VoiceKontrol are fictitious, as is this story.]
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