You know their names and you probably remember what they look like, but can you remember the last time you heard from them? No, I am not referring to long-lost relatives; I’m talking about classic consumer brands (some may call them legacy brands, others may call them heritage brands, but to me, they are the classics). They are the brands that have spent years building their reputations and successes but, as of late, seem to have fallen completely off of the radar.

If you think about it, I’ll bet you can come up with a fairly good-sized list of classic brands that fall into this category because almost every major packaged-goods manufacturer has some. Exactly how did this sad fate befall once-household names like Os-Cal, Stove Top and Nytol? The answer is simple: Newer brands continue to secure the support needed to keep them front-of-mind with consumers while the classics are relegated to the proverbial back burner.

While newer brands continue to maintain appropriate levels of marketing support, it has become increasingly more common that classic brands, regardless of their past successes and tremendous profitability, suffer under a lack of funding. The problem is that such neglect does not account for the viability of these brands; it simply diminishes their voice to the point where they are completely forgotten or — and I shudder to say this — no longer produced.

However, in today’s consumer-focused marketplace, manufacturers have begun to recognize that classic brands are no less relevant even though they are not shiny or new. Consumers are not only looking for brands that offer good value; they are also looking for brands with a history and proven success. Further, classic brands often drive the greatest profit and provide the ability to reinvest strategically in the business. It is time to take a step back, reconsider priorities and resurrect some of the classic brands that consumers, and your business, are looking for.

But has the lack of support done irreparable damage? Can these classic brands that have lost their voices once again become relevant players within their categories? Believe it or not, classic brands can be brought back from obscurity. To do so, you must be willing to take chances, establish new ways of working, and even return to grassroots marketing tactics.

So, come with me as we journey to bring the classics back to relevance. Some of the steps may make you a bit nervous, but in the long run, you will find that they truly drive positive results.

The first step is likely to be one of the most challenging because it requires rethinking your current marketing business model. You already know that classic brands will drive profitability, but you also know that the dollars available to you will be fewer than those allocated to newer brands. Consequently, you are going to have to make all of your dollars work as hard as possible.

This means looking at every aspect of how your current model works and streamlining it so all of your marketing and sales dollars are managed efficiently. Consider establishing one classic-brand marketing team with one or two brand managers overseeing multiple classic-brands grouped under one portfolio umbrella. In addition, think about partnering dedicated sales strategists with your classic-brand managers so you have a two-way bridge between the brands and the field team. This is a true departure from the traditional marketing model, but it will help set up your classic brands for success right out of the gate.

In addition to streamlining your overall marketing model, you will need to streamline your organizational red tape so your classic-brand marketing team has the ability to react quickly. With the classic brands already waning, any time or money spent following lengthy processes leaves less time and money available to reinvigorate their fortunes.

In no way am I suggesting that processes should not be followed or approvals secured, rather that the steps needed to complete the process and obtain the approvals be minimized. While this can be a difficult mind shift for some organizations, it will help produce positive results, both short- and long-term.

With your first — and likely most difficult — step completed, it is now time to move on to understanding your brands and their conversation with the consumer. The time spent working to bring a brand back to relevance is not the time for new product development or product extensions. It is the time to help your classics speak with your intended consumers so they are quickly re-engaged with the brands.

To help make this happen, consider executing smaller, but pinpointed, qualitative research projects that get directly to the heart of what consumers expect to “hear” from your brands. Smaller qualitative research is a quick and inexpensive way to adjust your communication hierarchies so your conversation with consumers is as it should be. Your new communication can then manifest itself in new claims, new websites or even new packaging designed to help rejuvinate the brands quickly.

Now that you have an understanding of your brands, step three is to assign realistic and achievable goals for success. While the final goal would be to see the brands returning to the black, it would be unrealistic to expect that to happen in a short timeframe. The best method is to use a gradual approach that steadily moves the brands forward.

For example, if the brands are declining at a rate of five percent year-over-year, a great first-year goal would be to slow or stop the decline completely. For a second-year goal, moving the decline from five percent to three percent would be appropriate. From there, each year’s goal would be an increase (year-over-year) until the brands are once again profitable.

Step four is to develop a global marketing plan that takes into account the goals you have established, as well as what consumers are looking for from your brands. This is where you get back to the basics of what really promotes and drives brand relevance.

When developing a marketing plan, it is natural to want to take advantage of the newest, most innovative tactics, but are these new tactics best for classic brands? Are they a bit too “new-fangled” or unexpected?

For classic brands, tactics such as free-standing inserts, instantly-redeemable coupons, in-store displays and custom shopper-marketing programs can engage the shopper at the point-of-purchase, remind them of the brand’s heritage and provide compelling discounts. This combination works together to drive the trial and awareness you desire for your brands.

Because it is very likely that you are working with an extremely limited budget, you do not have time to gamble on tactics that may not pay out. Each of the tactics above, especially when compared to larger, national promotion events (i.e., national media buys) are inexpensive to execute and work efficiently to combine multiple brands together for a better return-on-investment and increased profit.

The final step involves analyzing the success of our marketing plan. A thorough post-promotional analysis of each executed event will provide key information that will not only help determine the success of your existing marketing plan but also
help fine tune future plans so that return-on-investment and profits continue to grow. Don’t be afraid to admit when a tactic did not work, because you will learn just as much from your failures as from your successes.

We have now reached the final step on our path back to relevance: This is where we take a moment to sit back and celebrate what we have done. It may not have always been an easy journey, and we need to continue to focus on the classics, but we are now well positioned for success.