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Why brands fail is a question senior management asks repeatedly and, no doubt, is cause for many sleepless nights for brand managers. In its simplest form, brands fail when consumers stop asking for them. Then, of course, the question becomes why do consumers stop asking for brands? There are numerous reasons, but one might be able to boil it down to a few basics:

  • Irrelevancy: The brand has simply run its course. Technology and changing consumer habits have a huge impact on brands becoming irrelevant.
  • Breaking Consumer Trust: To succeed, brands must maintain trust with their consumers. Once this trust is broken, the brand is likely to head on a downward spiral. Trust can be broken in different ways: false marketing; shifts in product formulation (think New Coke); or even line extensions that ultimately don’t make sense (think Harley perfume). Yes, there really was a Harley Davidson perfume in the ’90s. It failed miserably.
  • Competition: Competitive pressures are a real daily threat to most brands. Staying ahead of your competitors requires laser-like focus and a willingness to take some thoughtful risks to stay out in front. In the perfect world, you might have a brand that is “first to market.” That’s when market share growth is easiest, but it’s only a matter of time before a competitor enters the market and starts nipping at your heels.
  • Lack of awareness: If you don’t do some form of marketing for your brand, no one will ever hear about it. Thankfully, marketing efforts today aren’t always reliant on large mass media investments. With targeted digital campaigns, getting your brand’s name in front of the right eyes can be done more economically than ever before.


At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster had more than 9,000 stores worldwide. It helped redefine home entertainment and, at the time, created havoc among Hollywood executives who feared consumers would never go to the movie theaters again. Make it a Blockbuster Night became a common phrase in American households thanks to a successful ad campaign.

So, what happened to Blockbuster? It became irrelevant and the competition heated up as technology advanced. Early on-demand videos and competitive pressures from (at the time) mail-order Netflix and Red Box kiosks proved too much for Blockbuster to compete.

Netflix and other streaming content changed consumers’ home viewing habits forever, making Blockbuster irrelevant to consumers. In 2000, the company had the opportunity to purchase Netflix for $50 million… but declined. Today, mostly in Alaska, fewer than 12 Blockbuster stores exist. The brand is essentially gone.

Hamburger Helper

Introduced in 1971, Hamburger Helper graced the tables of households across America. It was an iconic brand throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Fast forward to today and the brand’s relevancy is diminishing due to changing consumer preferences.

The brand’s market share (within the dinner mix segment) has declined from 61 percent in 2007 to 40 percent today. Consumers today are clearly moving away from pre-packaged meals like Hamburger Helper and spending more of their hard-earned dollars on fresher items, natural and organic items, or even packaged-goods items that have fewer processed ingredients. While Hamburger Helper still has some shelf space in the store, its status as a staple item in every kitchen cupboard is no longer the case.

Ensuring your brand doesn’t go the way of Blockbuster or start teetering into oblivion like Hamburger Help requires a great deal of focused energy and commitment throughout any organization. If you are brand manager tasked with driving continued sales growth for your brand, make sure to keep your brand relevant, maintain consumers’ trust and stay ahead of the competition. Some brands that have done this well: Netflix, Apple and Amazon (which may soon become the nation’s largest retailer).

Need help keeping your brand relevant in today’s ever-changing market? Get in touch with us.

Joe Myers

Author Joe Myers

Joe is the Executive Account Director at InQuest Marketing. He leads the charge on several key accounts and research initiatives, and supports new business efforts. Joe's favorite InQuest memory is moving into the current (larger) office space following tremendous growth as an organization. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer whose hobbies include gardening and swimming.

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