Staying relevant and successful as a brand is a challenge whether your company is a year old or more than 100. A resilient brand weathers changing customer preferences over time and either develops new products or services or finds ways to sustain the appeal of the ones they have. All brands will have their ups and downs, but when the downs seem to far outnumber the ups, there are a few telltale signs that your brand is getting to be just plain old:
The average age of your customer keeps going up: If your customer base is aging right along with you, even at half the rate, your brand is in trouble. Harley-Davidson motorcycle has faced this problem for years, with the average age of their customer rising as fast as 6 months for every year that passed. Buyers went from the 40s in average age to the low 50s and essentially kept pace with the aging of the Baby Boom Generation. That cohort will soon be unable to hold up those big bikes at traffic lights because of their knee replacements. Harley claims to have finally seen a decrease in this key metric, but sales of smaller bikes to younger buyers have been slow.
The lobby test: Ever walk into a lobby and feel like you entered a time capsule from the past? The furniture is worn and decades old, the magazines are from last year, maybe there are signs taped to a door that served some temporary purpose, but have never been taken down? Inevitably, this is a glimpse into much deeper resistance to change within the organization. Companies that don’t see the need to keep their lobby reasonably up to date usually skimp on other modernization as well. Often, everyone can see it—employees, customers, and prospects—except for the leadership of the brand.
The size of your core market is shrinking, and so are your sales: Even the leading brand in a shrinking market will struggle if it can’t increase market share. Right now there are dozens of small colleges in the northeast struggling to find enough students. The numbers of college-age men and women have been shrinking for about a decade and will continue to decline based on birth records. The best-known college brands will be fine, but those with less recognition may have to refresh their brands to reach beyond their region to draw enough students.
Digital marketing illiteracy: The core principles of branding haven’t changed in 100 years, but the technology for creating and sustaining brand experiences has been drastically different just in the last 10. If your leadership can’t use—or at least understand—the technology of communicating with today’s customer, your brand could fall behind very quickly.
Your brand is equated with the leader who is up there in age: Anybody of any age can be innovative and leading edge. But often, they aren’t. Longtime customers may be OK with an aging leadership figure, but do young customers love and embrace the leader? The Playboy brand has struggled to move beyond the association with its founder Hugh Hefner. Soon the Virgin brand will face the same issue with Sir Richard Branson’s advancing age.