Maintain trust, even while phasing out a brand, by adopting a customer-centered approach that focuses on minimizing disruption.
Over the last few months, an already complicated commercial environment has become even more uncertain. Brands face a (still alarming) global health crisis, a sharp economic downturn, and passionate calls for social and justice reform. Not surprisingly, these factors are also affecting buying behaviors. In light of these commercial challenges, many brands are reviewing their portfolios and in some cases, sun-setting brands.
To boost the likelihood of a successful brand sunset adopt a buyer-centered approach. Specifically, depending on the rationale for phasing out a brand, set a timing, collaboration, and communication strategy that focuses on minimizing customer disruption (see image below).
Use this customer-centered framework to conduct a successful brand sunset
Three Paths to a Brand Sunset
Generally, there are three reasons for a brand sunset: 1) tarnished reputation; 2) portfolio consolidation (following a merger or acquisition); and 3) an under-performing brand. Let’s take each rationale (and recommendations) at a time.
1. Tarnished Reputation
In this instance, there has been a significant breach of trust between customers and the brand. Or, in this environment of significant cultural shifts, the brand is no longer relevant or appropriate.
Timing – There should be a collective sense of urgency here. Marketing and partners should be in agreement that in order to restore trust with customers, the brand should be sunset (and replaced) as soon a feasibly possible. This “urgency to sunset” should guide most of your decisions.
Collaboration – In sun-setting a tarnished brand, marketers must work closely with Public Relations and Corporate Communication partners. Your relevant audience will not only include your customers, but also the media and (in most cases) your employees. Media partners will also have unique insights about how the public (including your customers) are reacting to the the process.
Communication – The key is to keep your audience, specially your customers, informed across the entire sunset process. Let them know early that you recognize the need for change and your decision to sunset the brand. Share planned timelines, updates, and ultimately information about the new brand. Err on the side of transparency.
2. Portfolio Consolidation (M&A)
In this instance, the brand has gone through a significant merger or acquisition. As a result, there may be obvious brand overlaps and some will need to be phased out.
Timing – If possible, decouple the sunset timeline from the broader integration timeline. This is because in most cases, integration timeliness are very business-focused. Once decoupled, you will be able to set a realistic customer-centered (and likely longer) timeline. Measure success not by how quickly you sunset the brand, but by how seamlessly you transition buyers from one brand to another.
Collaboration – Sales (or Account Management) will be a critical partner here. They will help you understand all of the inter-dependencies/overlaps between brands so that you can undo them with minimal disruption for the customer. Working closely with Sales will also ensure customers are not being contacted by too many teams with conflicting information.
Communication – Your communication plan should focus on being clear, reassuring, and consistent. It is also critical that you stick to your word. For example, if you tell customers the sunset brand’s website will remain active for a year, you need to make good on that promise. In addition, you should prioritize messaging that highlights the benefits customers will receive as a result of this change.
3. Under-performing Brand
In this instance, the brand is no longer financially viable and lacks any other non-financial benefits (for example, recognition).
Timing – While it might make financial sense to sunset an under-performing brand as fast as possible, you need to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and proceed cautiously. In most cases, the brand to be sunset still has some loyal customers and you do not want to lose them with an abrupt change. Err on the side of minimizing customer disruption and be prepared to maintain some legacy products/services available for some time.
Collaboration – Work closely with Customer Service and Customer Experience colleagues. You want to view this sunset from the customers’ perspective, to understand the features they value most, and the negative impact it will have on them. From there, you will need to coordinate with your Product partners to build the least disruptive retirement plan.
Communication – Your communication plan should be clear and consistent and emphasize the brand’s continued commitment to customers during the sunset. Your plan should include a response strategy (scripting, FAQs, social) to potential negative feedback from disappointed or concerned customers. Finally, prepare to keep some communication channels open and available for some time after the sunset.