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Special Columns
Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri
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"A 'failed brand' is like a Dead Brand Walking!"
Mary Van de Wiel, CEO of ZingYourBrand.com & Creator of NY Brand Lab, on why great brands are led by great leaders and why revivals don’t always work
Mary van de Wiel is the CEO and Brand Anthropologist at ZingYourBrand.com (a subsidiary of A New Brand Landscape & Co.). She is also the author of ‘Dead Brand Walking’. Van is based out of New York and helps entrepreneurs and start-up CEOs across US, China and Australia rethink, revitalise and repackage brands so they show up and stand out. Prior to starting Zingyourbrand.com, she ran her own creative agency for 18 years, creating global brand campaigns for Fortune 500 clients in US, China, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Most times, companies claim that they have/had to phase out a ‘failure’ brand. Do you agree that there is something like a ‘failed’ brand? Can advertising and marketing help change that perception about a given brand?

I’d call a ‘failed brand’ an example of a Dead Brand Walking! If the brand pulse is not pumping or showing strong, vital signs, it’s a sure sign the management team is not paying enough attention – or not focused on pumping oxygen back into the business. It takes a great commitment and more importantly, a strong desire to turn around a business that is failing. Advertising and marketing can clearly change perceptions but if the business isn’t being steered by committed brand guardians, it doesn’t have much of a chance.

Let’s be candid – so are these ‘Dead Men Walking’ worth reviving?

Yes and no. As iconic and worthy brands, they captured a moment in time with their remarkable feats, nimble thinking and sheer innovative force. A brand like Pan Am doesn’t just disappear from our consciousness. Just take a look at the excitement of the era with Steven Spielberg’s ‘Catch Me if You Can’. People hold Pan Am close to their hearts. We live in a 21st Century-changing world. With the new digital era, take Polaroid’s instant film camera, for example, it became instantly obsolete. Why? Because every man, woman (and child) suddenly had the ability to click, store and send their own photo – anywhere they wanted, whenever they wanted. Today’s consumers are used to managing and controlling their insatiable appetite for information, media, tools and resources. What chance, in particular, would Polaroid have in this new economy and social world?

On one hand we have brands like Coca-Cola, Southwest Airlines, IBM, GM, Microsoft, Apple, on the other hand, we have a battery of names that have not managed to live on. What has been the key difference in approach to branding strategies between these two groups?

The key difference? It’s the kind of energy and the level of consciousness that the CEO brings to the business table. Take Southwest Airline’s chairman Herb Kelleher, for example. He brought a different and more eclectic mindset to the business, creating a culture where everyone is working together towards the same cause. He made his people care about the airline. This thinking spills over across every communication channel – and you can pick up the tone, attitude and voice, seamlessly? That’s a powerful difference. You can spot those CEOs who are mindful, transparent and authentic, on track to create a values-congruent organisation – and you can watch as they infuse the company with a pumping vital force, and speak in a voice that resonates with people. Sounds simple, right? Sir Richard Branson is a good example. What’s more, he has that sense of adventure, a twinkle in his eye and the desire to make a difference in the world. A good formula for magic. Of course, he knows something about branding with heart and intention, too! Great brands that have lived on have been led by great leaders too.


Steven Philip Warner           
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