Innovate or Die: Missed Brand Opportunities.

It is a well-worn cliché that innovation never stops. Motivational speakers often say that if you’re standing still, you’re really moving backwards. This is summarised nicely with the phrase ‘it’s better to have regrets rather than what ifs,’ or if you’re born after 1993; ‘YOLO.’

Admittedly, the latter two are normally said prior to doing something stupid, however, from a brand and business point of view, they are largely correct. A failure to predict, or even acknowledge the evolution of your industry is a death sentence. In this blog we’ll be looking at some famous ‘If onlys’-examples of brands that buried their heads in the sand and refused to embrace the future.

It may seem like a distant memory, but we used to buy music from shops and not just stream it. Before you argue that vinyl is making a comeback, I mean widespread, mainstream mass-purchasing of music as the main method of listening to your favourite songs.

The biggest brand when it came to music (and video and DVD purchases) was HMV with its memorable pink font and dog/gramophone logo. The shop was on practically every high street in every town in the UK and was responsible for most of my family’s Christmas and birthday presents for years.

However, HMV failed to move with the times and realise that the future was digital, sticking rigidly to its business model of hard goods. Spotify and iTunes began and started to eat into HMV’s market share, the iPod revolutionised the way we listen to music. The signs were clear that the industry was changing. In the early days before it was liberated to travel with you on smartphones as an app, Spotify was limited to laptops. You couldn’t listen to its music on your discman (remember those?). Even iTunes required you to either pay to download music, or have the hard copy of the music in the first place.

There was definite room for HMV to use it’s enormous brand reputation to enter the digital music market. The lack of innovation and dogmatic adherence to physical media sales in a world of streaming and downloading lead to the brand entering administration in 2013 and becoming one of the big what-ifs of the high street.

HMV also sold DVDs amongst other technology; it also failed to adapt to new consumer behaviour when it comes to TV and films, as did our next example:

Blockbuster was another high street giant that has disappeared from the UK. For many people who can remember the 90s, Blockbuster WAS film rental, it had 9,000 stores globally and was worth $5 billion as recently as 2001. Despite dabbling in postal dvds and an early attempt at online streaming, the business succumbed to rivals and the digital age, disappearing from our shores in 2013 and consigning late fees to a distant memory. This demise must be particularly galling, as Blockbuster was offered the opportunity to purchase a small, niche business called Netflix in 2000 for a mere $50m. Surely one of branding’s greatest what-if stories.

Had either brand attempted (in HMV’s case) or truly embraced and stuck with (in Blockbuster’s case) the digital age, the world of music and video streaming could be a very different place indeed. It is crucial that businesses keep their ears to the ground when it comes to how the public interact with your industry.

There are of course bizarre brand moves. Some brands have attempted to enter markets that aren’t a logical sidestep to their own, but are a running leap. For a great example, search Colgate ready meals and Bic disposable underwear.

There have been some very successful cases of brands branching out, just think of Guiness World Records and the Michellin restaurant guide. It is crucial that a brand has an accurate view of how they are perceived. This cannot be formulated in the board room (I think we’re cool and edgy — you’re probably not). This research must involve listening to actual consumers. You must also thoroughly understand the market that you’re considering entering into to be sure that your brand equity transfers and proposed product will be well received.

This is where your marketing team (or agency) are crucial, they must be your eyes and ears to warn you of any potential icebergs ahead. Your business must also be open-minded enough to heed these warnings and bits of advice and be prepared to adapt to survive in the business world. Or risk becoming a dinosaur, consigned to the history books as another sad ‘what-if’ case.