Change before you have to.” ~ Jack Welch

The news last month that former stalwart of the high street, British Home Stores, went into administration has had me reflecting on how it is some brands stay relevant. I touched on this in an article I wrote titled, The 9 Characteristics of Successful Brands.

How Leading Brands Stay Relevant

So this week I was delighted to learn that the high street retailer has launched a national 'guerrilla' style campaign featuring the slogan '#SaveBHS.' The campaign, which sees BHS projecting the hashtag on numerous landmarks across the UK, was inspired by its 11,000 employees, who are keen to ensure the survival of the British department store group.

The '#SaveBHS' slogan was projected onto the Blackfriars Bridge, Marble Arch and Wellington Arch in London on Monday night, as well as the Marylebone Road, London head office. Go BHS! The slogan will be used online as well part of a social media campaign whose aim is to garner public support for BHS.

The #SaveBHS campaign speaks on behalf of the 11,000 staff at risk and our millions of customers all over the UK who do not want to see another British institution disappear from the great British high street." ~ Tony Holdway, marketing and creative director of BHS.

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s, British Home Stores, together with M&S and Littlewoods, was one of a trio of well-loved brands that dominated the UK high street. It was part of our retail landscape. Every Saturday, bargain conscious shoppers would weave their way between these three, looking for the best deals. For a child, being dragged around this harshly lit chain store every Saturday afternoon was a joyless experience. But for mums on a tight budget, it was a shop where they could get good quality, durable products at an affordable price.

But somewhere along the way, British Homes Stores lost its way and its brand relevance. As M&S knows only too well, you can’t rest on your laurels and trade on your formidable history. Especially when us shoppers are such a fickle lot, and the retail landscape is changing so fast.

[shareable cite="Denyse Whillier"]'The success of a brand has everything to do with its ability to stay relevant.'[/shareable]

It certainly didn’t help BHS when, between 2002 and 2004, shareholders extracted £422million in dividends, most of which went to the family of the then owner, Sir Philip Green. Nor when Sir Philip’s company made a £1.2 billion payment to his wife, Tina, a resident in the tax haven, Monaco. The sale of British Home Stores to a former racing driver with no retail experience, who had twice been made redundant, was a further nail in its coffin.

By 2010, when the company should have been implementing an innovative strategic plan to see off the challenge of hungrier rivals like Primark and Tesco, it was haemorrhaging profits and shoppers. As a consequence, British Home Stores was ill-prepared to withstand the recession when cash strapped shoppers were looking for bargains. Its problems were further compounded by the tactics of aggressive discount retailers and the advent of online competition.

British Home Stores fast became irrelevant to shoppers on a budget looking for good quality, affordable products. It was neither the best at clothing. Nor the most competitive on price. Nor did it provide the best customer service. (Although it always had a great lighting department). The brutal reality is that there wasn’t a reason to shop at British Home Stores any more. Next, M&S, Primark and the supermarkets had taken its space.

All successful brands are the best at something. Author of ‘Good To Great,’ Jim Collins explains how greatness comes about through a series of good decisions consistent with a simple, coherent concept; the “Hedgehog Concept.” The Hedgehog Concept is an operating model that reflects understanding of three intersecting circles: what you can be the best in the world at, what you are deeply passionate about, and what best drives your economic or resource engine. When you can answer all three questions, then you have the foundations for a great company.

  • What can your business be the best in the world at?
  • What are you deeply passionate about.
  • And what best drives the economic or resource engine of your business?

Answering these three questions is what enables the most successful brands to stay relevant.

Four Ways Brands Stay Relevant

1. They Create A Close Enough Option To Their Competitors

McDonalds originally launched the McCafe line in Melbourne back in 1993, but it is only recently that the chain has rolled out the concept in Europe. "We can become the biggest seller of coffee in Europe," said Jerome Tafani, chief financial officer for McDonald's Europe. In an interview with the Financial Times, Tafani said that McCafes wanted to attract new customers by creating a "cosy" atmosphere and target people looking for breakfast on their way to work.

Michael Mulvey, a marketing professor at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management, said there is an opportunity for McDonald's to address an underserved customer segment by being faster than its direct competitors such as Tim Hortons and undercutting the premium prices of alternatives such as Starbucks.

For this strategy to be successful, the brand has to overcome a perceived lack of credibility in the new area. And it must have the culture and organisational skills to compete with its competitors and be able to take a significant market share quickly.

2. They Leapfrog the Competition Through Innovation

This is where Apple excels. What keeps Apple so far ahead of its rivals - and poised to become the world’s first trillion-dollar brand - is its instinct to constantly renew and challenge convention. This requires significant transformational innovation, and it is hard to get established if competitors have scale and momentum on their side.

3. They Re-position

Madonna is a master of the art of brand re-positioning. From material girl to diva through to spiritualist, Madonna repositions herself in order to stay true to her brand essence of radicalism. What is radical to the majority today will be normal tomorrow.

Founded in 1912 as a hunting, fishing and camping retailer, LL Bean has repositioned itself as a broader outdoor firm for hikers, mountain climbers and cross country skiers. That’s why, a century later, the family-owned retailer has grown into a business with sales exceeding $1.5 billion.

 4. They Stick To Their Knitting

In contrast to McDonalds, the California based burger chain In-N-Out Burger has stuck to its core products and resisted the healthy eating trend. By delivering both excellent quality and customer service, it has attracted leading chefs as customers.

Julia Child, one of the first celebrities to champion the chain, admitted to knowing every location of the restaurant between Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Gordon Ramsey discovered the chain while filming Hells Kitchen. "In-N-Out burgers were extraordinary. I was so bad, I sat in the restaurant, had my double cheeseburger then minutes later I drove back around and got the same thing again to take away."

The risk of sticking to your knitting, as British Home Stores did, is that you may also be sticking your head in the sand about strong trends that are changing the face of your industry.

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

It may be very late in the day, but I hope this BHS guerrilla campaign is successful and the retailer gets an owner worthy of its history. Meanwhile I’ll be doing my bit to cheer the retailer along, and hope that it comes back stronger, with a best of British brand.

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Question: Has this article helped you to think about how your brand can stay relevant? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments box below.

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About Denyse

Prior to becoming a business consultant and coach, I gained 25 years’ experience in business in senior management and leadership roles, including 8 years as a former CEO. This experience is backed up by training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. With experience in business planning, financial management, risk management, building strategic partnerships, product development, marketing (including PR) plus leading and developing staff teams of up to 150 people, there’s very little I haven’t had to deal with or experienced during my career in business.

You can find out more about working with me HERE. Or alternatively email me on to arrange an informal chat over coffee. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching or business consultancy would be a good fit for your business, the results you can expect and how to get started.