Branding is simultaneously exciting and intimidating. The notion of building a new company, complete with a new identity, from scratch is exhilarating, but at the same time, you’ve heard the statistics; you know that the majority of small businesses and startups are destined to fail.
Undaunted, you continue, but in the back of your mind, you realize that one day, your business may begin to collapse. Here’s the consolation; just because your brand loses momentum or starts to dwindle, doesn’t mean it’s destined to fail. In fact, the entrepreneurial world is filled with stories of leaders who took the reins of dying companies and guided them back to a successful path. All it takes is a bit of ingenuity, a willingness to adapt, and a full commitment to your company.
Take these brands as examples of how it can be done:
1. Chuck Taylor. Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers were created as a kind of marketing gimmick by Converse. The company signed basketball star Charles Hollis (Chuck Taylor) to promote shoe sales in the 1930s. Though high-top sneakers were being produced as far back as 1917, it wasn’t until Chuck Taylor designed his own signature shoe that shoe sales exploded. Unfortunately, the allure wore off after a few decades, when major shoe companies like Nike started to take over the market, and by the mid-1990s, Converse was practically a dead brand. Nike took over the company in 2003, revitalizing the market with a new image of the sneakers to be associated with musicians, artists, and other “cool” celebrities. They’ve since seen a massive revival — and one they still enjoy to this day.
2. LEGO. LEGO never stopped being cool — let’s make that clear. But in the 1990s, LEGO attempted to reinvent itself for a new era, designing complex new set lines with specialty pieces. In theory, it was a good idea — after all, businesses need to adapt with the times — but unfortunately, these new product lines didn’t resonate with kids, and in the early 2000s, LEGO started suffering hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. What could they do? The company decided to get back to basics, promoting its original line of LEGO blocks in ways that catered to children’s imaginations and even expanding to a wider media presence with video games and movies. Now, the brand’s reach is wider than ever.
3. The VW Beetle. The Volkswagen Beetle was selling successfully in the 1970s, with more than 15 million models sold, but that popularity was short-lived. Only a few years later, the Beetle fell off the market and remained silent for decades. But after a resurgence of “retro” 1970s fashion trends and subsequent nostalgia, Volkswagen decided to redesign the model for a new audience. Combining the old model’s quirks and charm with new appeals, the company was able to revitalize Beetle sales, and the VW Beetle rose to popularity yet again.
4. Starbucks. If you told me you’ve never been to a Starbucks, I wouldn’t believe you. There’s probably one across the street from you. But Starbucks hasn’t always enjoyed such a favorable and steady position in the world market. Starbucks was once a local establishment that sold coffee beans in Seattle, founded in 1971. After many years of only modest sales and reach, with no clear promise of benefitting from long-term expansion, a simultaneous rebranding and franchising campaign ended up taking the coffee shop to cities around the country, where it now continues to grow on a daily basis.
5. Apple. No list of brand comebacks would be complete with what is, arguably, the best brand comeback story of all time. As you may or may not know already, Apple was enjoying some breakout success throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s with the rise in popularity of the Apple II and Apple III computers. Due to creative differences, co-founder Steve Jobs was forced out of the company in the mid-1980s, and the brand began to fade into obsolescence. All that changed when Jobs came back to the company in 1997, leading a massive rebranding campaign that turned Apple into the minimalistic, futuristic tech juggernaut we’ve all come to embrace.
What You Can Learn
These stories are entertaining, enlightening, and just a bit inspirational. They’re a clear sign that no matter what happens to your brand, you always have a chance at making a full recovery — maybe even bettering your position in the long run. But what practical takeaways can you gain from these micro case studies?
· If something isn’t working, change it. This one should be obvious, but it’s a point many struggling entrepreneurs miss. If your business isn’t working in its current state, you have to change something about it. There’s no compromise here. Change is necessary for further growth.
· Differentiation is key. Many businesses dwindle because they’re no longer distinguished. If you can find a way to differentiate yourself, with a new brand or with a new target audience, you can breathe new life into your enterprise.
· Defy the norm. Most of the entries on this list found new life because they made unconventional decisions, or because they defied common logic. Don’t be afraid to resist norms when rebuilding your business.
Entrepreneurship is full of mistakes, challenges, and periods of hardship, but these brands prove that “down” doesn’t always mean “out.” Keep your business alive with creativity, perseverance, and dedication.