The Art of the Comeback: How These Companies Returned to Prominence
In business, you may be down, but that doesn’t mean you’re out. Plenty of brands have been in trouble, then fought their way back to prominence with a combination of ingenuity and clever, well-planned messaging. Here are some standout examples of businesses who “made it back” and the lessons their journeys can teach us.
It really wasn’t that long ago that one of the Big 3 automakers in the United States was looking liked a stalled-out shell on the side of the highway. A bankruptcy filing in the late 2000s and a massive layoff has even die-hard GM customers looking for other options. Then, insult to injury. A huge government bailout to keep GM in business earned the company the derisive moniker Government Motors… Quite a fall from the union darling and first choice of millions of “buy American” focused consumers. Then, a combination of smart business moves and some prominent PR campaigns, including a star turn in the blockbuster Transformer movies, put GM back in the fast lane. When faced with customer apathy, look for ways to generate excitement and restore faith in your brand.
One of the premier airlines in the country, Delta once ruled the friendly skies. But the company failed to adjust to higher fuel prices and the new competition from smaller low-fare airlines. Delta stumbled, filing for bankruptcy amid headlines of union issues and disgruntled customers. Delta trimmed the fat, cut its costs while improving its fleet, and unleashed a series of PR campaigns to get people choosing Delta once again. By 2013, more passengers were flying Delta than any other airline. The lesson, sometimes you have to do more with less, and it never hurts to reconsider consumer experience. Find ways to improve customer response while keeping costs in line, and you can bring yourself back from the brink.
One of the biggest comic book companies in the world was all but dead. Books weren’t selling, and even big-name characters were not making the impact they once did. After a few terrible movies and mediocre TV properties, Marvel faced the 1990s with very little hope. Then, a glimmer of light. New artists, new direction, and new life in some of the most iconic characters in comics. In print, Marvel planned some truly shocking storylines. And, on the big screen, Marvel began producing the first entry in a long line of blockbuster movie hits, from licensing the X-Men to in-house productions from Iron Man through this year’s Avengers: Infinity War. The combination of print Renaissance and film success proved to be a resurrection for Marvel to rival that of any of its famous heroes. The “secret” here, is that Marvel found multiple ways to make people care about their products again, while also introducing audiences to characters and titles they might have otherwise ignored.
If your business or brand is around long enough, sooner or later you will experience a downturn in popularity and customer appreciation. That experience may be relative, but it’s generally inevitable. A successful response to that situation can make or break a brand. In nearly every case where a brand on consumer life support came back to prominence, the resurrection involved a successful public relations campaign.
Nintendo absolutely dominated the late 80s and 90s video game market. The company’s avatars were iconic: Donkey Kong, Super Mario, Bowser and countless others. Competitors were forced to try imitation in an effort to keep up. Then came Game Boy, which cemented Nintendo’s lead by alloying fans to take their products with them anywhere. Enter Sony. Coming out of nowhere, the Sony PlayStation transformed home video gaming. The PS2 bullied Nintendo out of a rapidly shifting gaming market, leaving Microsoft to rise to biggest competitor with its Xbox line. Nintendo was relegated to also-ran status, until it remembered what made Nintendo games winners in the first place: they were fun.
Nintendo shifted its stance in the market, going after families and younger gamers, then introducing the Wii, which was marketed to both kids and older adults with its physically interactive game play. By leaving the core gaming market — guys in their teens and early 20s — entirely to Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo once again found a profitable niche that has paid off handsomely.
This dominant shoe brand never saw the bullet that almost killed it. There was absolutely no doubt that Converse was the athletic shoe king of the hill for much of the 20th century. Then, Nike and Adidas connected with some key professional sport figures and athletic teams, and Converse faded virtually overnight. By the end of the 70s, Tree Rollins was, reportedly, the only player still rocking Chuck Taylors in the NBA.
Converse fought its way back by mimicking the competition and, more successfully, by taking the bold step of abandoning one market to chase others. Converse marketed directly to rockers, skaters, punks, and a wide array of “counter culture” kids. Soon, the brand was back on track, having left its old stomping grounds of the hardcourt behind for very different but greener pastures.
Not that long ago, Pabst Blue Ribbon was the punchline of beers. Considered a cheap, tasteless option if you had next to no money in your pockets or other choices in the beer case. This was a massive fall for a company that was founded in the 19th century and was considered a major player in the brew market for most of a century. But, after its last heyday in the 1970s, PBR began to wane in popularity, easily lapped by Budweiser, Miller, and other brands.
Pabst Blue Ribbon chose a new marketing strategy and a new leader to convey that message, 27-year-old Brian Kovalchuk. The brand looked at the current state of the market and found a target that was being virtually ignored by most beer marketing 20-something hipsters. Kovalchuk lead an all-out marketing push to make PBR the choice of this group, an effort that succeeded spectacularly. From there, PBR branched out into other groups: college kids who liked that it was cheap, and Millennials who didn’t want to drink their dad’s beer. The marketing shift led to a 165 percent increase in sales for PBR.
The lessons here are simple: don’t be afraid to swing for the fences, embrace change, and look for opportunities in areas you have traditionally missed or ignored. No matter where you are at the moment, success is out there if you can craft the right message and direct it at the best market.