Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Are the heydays for American legacy brands over? Steven Philip warner wonders...

4Ps Power Brand Awards 2007

Another arrogant American brand Tommy Hilfiger is undergoing a similar trauma. Where ‘European’ brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Cartier, Christian Dior, Fendi, H&M, Zara et al find a mention in the 2008 Milward-Brown rankings of the world’s top 100 brands, the American Tommy is nowhere in the list! Legacy, right? Tommy unlike its European counterparts refused to allow its garments’ production units to move to low-cost nations, advertised to the bare minimum, and all we have today is a shadow of what Tommy Hilfiger was! It has been plagued by what Beth Higgins of Euromonitor International states as, “Yesterday, it was a company-oriented marketplace. Today it is focused on the customer. The companies should keep innovation up.” Lack of innovation and pricing faults got better of Tommy!

Then there are other American brands which have just failed to give up the addiction to ‘I am legend’ tag; GM being one. Its glorified Hummer and other fuel-guzzling machines and its unwillingness to move towards making fuel-efficient cars have brought the brand close to the hangman’s noose. Ford is another example. Having been the supplier of vehicles to the US army, the ‘big-car-big-engine’ maker forgot that the consumer market is more elastic than the armed forces. Result: despite having made efforts at revamping its product mix, the company has not been able to make any ‘brand revival’ impact on consumers. Both Detroit giants were too proud about the economies of scale they had achieved. The result: Ford and GM reported the highest loss ever in their histories during 2006 & 2007 respectively; both being the global highest for those years!

Then there are instances of big business for banks becoming bad business for brands. Think about it, Citi, the world’s largest banking giant has lost value on both globally recognised branding rankings – Interbrand’s Survey 2008 and Millward Brown’s 2008 Survey. New CEO Vikram Pandit is taking bold steps, hiving off unprofitable assets and taking bolder job-cut decisions. But will it revive the once glorified and legendary Citi? Ask a broker on Wall Street, and he’d bet more on a sub-Saharan bank! But then, Citi isn’t the only one close to the grave; names like Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have already kissed the dust. Guess why? Unlike their competitors, the brands had no representation in retail banking and had grown to what they were by taking huge risks! One day, the bet didn’t pay off and it was over for them. Realising this, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have even denounced their investment banking dreams having received a nod from the Fed to start off a retail banking arm on September 22, 2008. Guess you’ll soon have a Goldman Sachs bank branch opening right near your home… Would you trust your savings with it?! There are also experts who doubt the very fact that the American financial giants had strong brands, ever! One Brent Scarcliff, Creative Director, Scarcliff-Salvador Inc. feels that, “Companies like Merrill Lynch, Lehmann Brothers and Citi never had strong brands; they are commodity companies who are highly vulnerable...” Their model of existence had clearly become unsustainable, but they gave a blind eye to the warnings; they were too proud to! Experts, weren’t they? Now, encomiums would be written about them whose brands crashed faster than even the twin-towers!

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2008

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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