18520 Mon, 04/12/2010 - 10:36am
How long does it take to build up a brand? Years, sometimes 30 or 40 years to really make it stick. How long does it take to tear one down? About the time it should take to stop a Toyota going 60-miles-per-hour ... around 60 seconds.
How Toyota comes out of this safety—not to mention public relations—nightmare remains to be seen. It took Audi 20 years to recover from its unintended acceleration problems ... and that turned out not to even be the car’s fault.
Tylenol bounced back from its contamination scandal in the mid-1980s and remains as trusted—and profitable—as it ever was, even after another scare more recently. But Perrier never regained its market position in the bottled water space after it went through its tainted water troubles in the early 1990s.
You just never know how these things will ultimately turn out. But one thing is very clear: brands, as powerful as they can be, are still fragile things, subject to market forces just like every other product.
Just because you have a longtime, well-established brand doesn’t mean that brand is immune to business conditions, either self-inflicted or caused through no fault of their own. All you have to do is look at the most recent occupants of the automobile brand graveyard to understand that: Pontiac, Plymouth, Saturn and Oldsmobile to name just a few.
And just having a great brand isn’t enough on its own to guarantee success. Schick is a perennial number two to Gillette no matter how many blades it puts on its razors. Duracell and Energizer are in a fight to the finish to see which has more power—literally and figuratively—in the marketplace. Salton had the best-selling single product brand in the housewares business—George Foreman—but that wasn’t enough to save the company from its financial problems.
A brand like George Foreman doesn’t come along very often in the home business. Take away a Rubbermaid, a Waterford, a KitchenAid, maybe Cannon, maybe La-Z-Boy and pretty quickly you come to the logical conclusion that home furnishings doesn’t have the powerhouse names of other consumer product fields.
It’s one of the reasons retailers are able to run rampant over suppliers who have no leverage and even less bargaining power during the buying process.
Very few companies in this business have to worry about something like the Toyota situation hurting their brands because they don’t have brands in the first place. I’ve written this before, but I love when a company says they are repositioning a certain product or brand when in fact that product or brand never had a position to begin with.
The very lack of brand power in the home business opens the door to building one for far less, in far less time, than it would take in a more brand-centric business like beer or apparel.
Years ago Sure Fit, a smallish company that makes upholstered furniture slips covers, got huge mileage—not to mention brand recognition—out of its Ugly Sofa contest in a program that I suspect didn’t cost a whole lot of money.
More recently, branding guru Iconix has been putting celebrities like Brooke Shields and Jason Lewis (Smith Jarrod of Sex and the City fame) into ads for its Royal Velvet and Charisma brands, gaining decent attention from both the media and towel buyers on both sides of the genetic pool.
Toyota’s got some serious stuff to get through. But think of it this way: it would have never reached this point if it hadn’t built such a powerful brand in the first place.