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Stretching Brands

Attracting new customers with a change in business direction can be great for sales; alienating a large swath of existing ones, not so much. Respecting the brand, always, is key.

As Henry Ford said: “If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Customers might not always know what they want but, when brands take a wrong turn, they sure as heck know what they don’t want. It’s tough to take the right direction; while the “new economy” is growing—most still don’t participate.

Recent mis-steps include Lands' End’s attempt to appeal to a hip, feminist audience with a catalog interview with Gloria Steinem, which ignited a backlash from pro-lifers, a withdrawal and apology from Lands' End, as well as a back-backlash from liberal customers. J.C. Penney also got a big thumbs-down from customers over phasing out coupons, while Starbucks got a poke in the eye when it changed its Customer Loyalty program.

But staying the same can bite you just as hard, as Vine is discovering, with customers ditching it for other, more flexible, video-sharing platforms. Successful re-jigging of the value proposition can deliver fantastic growth—look at Old Spice, KFC, and even Yellow Pages.

The verdicts on several other recent reinventions have yet to emerge, such as the introduction of hybrid candy Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups, National Geographic’s TV channel under Murdoch management, and Taco Bell’s new look. The trick is to keep deep respect for what your brand delivers to customers, and to stay true to it. Is your brand stretching too far?

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