How brands can live long and prosper


Brand Immortality: How Brands Can Live Long and Prosper by Hamish Pringle and Peter Field (neither of whom appears to be Vulcan) starts with a simple premise: brands can thrive forever. Unlike products, which have a predictable life cycle and inevitably are replaced by other products or are simply made obsolete by preference or custom, brands have the ability to attach themselves to multiple products and, if properly managed, can live on even as individual products fall by the wayside. Pringle and Field suggest that brands can represent major corporate assets, and often are not valued properly or managed in a way that reflects their true value.

The second major section of the book was a flashback to B-school coursework. The authors cover topics like the infamous “four Ps” of marketing, Maslow’s hiearchy of needs, and Porter”s Five Forces, all as relate to discussing brands and their longevity. They are particularly critical of the application of the Boston Matrix to brands.

If you have been remotely connected with business strategic planning in the last few decades, you have no doubt been exposed to the Boston Consulting Group matrix that plots business units on a two-dimensional grid of growth and market share. The theory behind the BCG matrix is that a leadership market share position is the key to profits (hence high market share business is much more desirable), and that growing business sectors are more profitable than stable or crotracting sectors. In the early days of the matrix, armies of BCG consultants poured into Fortune 500 corporations and pointed out how often management was allocating resources to low growth, low share businesses (“dogs”) while starving units with the potential to dominate high-growth areas (“stars”). The best path to growth and profits, the BCG suits proposed, was to dump the dogs, and use profits from mature, high-share businesses (“cash cows”) to fund the stars.

That may be fine for business divisions or individual products, but using this strategy for brands is a complete misapplication of the theory, say Pringle and Field. A dominant brand in a mature market isn’t something to be “milked,” implying minimal investment in the brand and application of its profits to other brands. A brand suffering from inadequate support in the form of advertising and promotion will inevitably decline and lose its value. On the other hand, a strong brand in a mature market need not limit itself to that mature product line – it can be extended to new, high growth areas. The authors hold up Apple as one example of a brand that has extended itself from personal computers to music players to mobile phones, in each case leveraging the existing brand (and, of course, excellent product design) to become a dominant player in the new market.

The last phase of the book will be the most interesting for readers looking for data on what works for branding. Pringle and Field dove into the archives of the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) for both statistical models and individual case studies of successful branding campaigns. They divide their analysis into four categories: new, growth, mature, and declining, and show how each phase of a market takes a different approach.

They even show that some brands have prospered in flat and declining markets. They describe a Hovis bread campaign which actually required a relaunch of a hundred-year old brand to reposition it in the minds of consumers. The brand was long-associated with whole-grain products and the company found itself unable to extend its reputation to other products, like white bread. By investing in advertising that played up the long history of the baker and which emphasized healthy products, Hovis was able to build on the brand equity it had developed over many decades but successfully extend the brand to products other than its whole-grain tradition. In a mature or declining category of packaged bread, the firm achieved double-digit growth.

Brand Immortality covers a lot of ground, ranging from its B-school redux to its illustrated case studies, and some readers may want to skip over parts they find less relevant to their interests. The book does make a strong case for properly valuing brands and investing in them to preserve and enhance that value. Marketers who want to make a case for not gutting ad budgets in tough times will find plenty of ammunition here. In addition, the surveys of successful campaigns under varying market circumstances will provide both general strategy guidance and, with the case studies, inspiration.

I’ll pull out some interesting points from Brand Immortality in future posts. In the meantime, may your brands all “live long and prosper.”