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Knowing When It’s Time to Weed Your Brand Portfolio

Spring at my house means crazy combinations of things growing in my yard and flowerbeds. Some are flowers that somehow survived the winter, even though they are technically annuals and should have lived only one glorious year. Some are perennials that we expected to return. And others are a mélange of weeds and various sprouts.

These plants are not coordinated in any way and grow randomly and somewhat frustratingly wherever they like.

I find many brand portfolios resemble my yard in the spring: odd collections with a few purposeful placements, a few hangers-on and a handful of items that randomly showed up over time. Why not use spring as the time to do some brand management?

Just because it grows doesn’t mean it fits
Launching new products and brands without considering existing products can result in a dysfunctional brand portfolio that makes things tough for consumers.

There are plenty of case studies on bad brand extensions like Coors Water, Colgate Kitchen Entrees and Frito Lay Lemonade because it’s easy to spot the major offenders. But people forget that microextensions are just as dangerous: the shampoo that comes in 30 varieties though only six sell with enough volume to justify the calories spent to get them to market. These are annuals that were beautiful for one season and should have died, but they showed up the next season and no one had the heart to get rid of them. If they’re no longer a match for the brand, or simply add color but no value, they need to go.

Build the plan but enjoy the surprise visitors
Admit it—most of us really, really like the little things that blow in from nowhere and bloom into something pretty. Recently, Kohl’s found itself the unexpected beneficiaries of Candace Payne’s wildly popular Chewbacca Mask video. The brand took advantage of the positive vibes being given off by the video (over 150 million views worldwide and counting) and rewarded Mrs. Payne with gift cards and gifts. Count that as a major win for the retailer and an excellent job of capitalizing on a sudden new flower. Now it’s back to the plan.

This is not to say that Kohl’s can’t continue the conversation involving “Chewbacca Mom,” but it would be a mistake to change the whole program to reflect a megaviral video.

Sometimes you just have to kill the weed
Some companies make it hard to kill products that don’t work, or get rid of the ones that came in with an acquisition but no longer fit the brand. These are the weeds in the brand portfolio—and they have to go in order to let the good stuff shine through. Just like vines growing in the flowerbed, it can be easy to mistake weeds for healthy products, but they get in the way and choke the life out of the brand.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple and began to turn the company around, among other things he killed off the weeds: laser printers, the Newton PDA and accessories. He simplified the portfolio so it could be amazing.

I hear plenty of people say they want their brand to be like Apple, but very few want to take the bold step of killing off products in the portfolio that seem to make money but actually drain the company of needed calories that could be better spent building something spectacular.

Be purposeful and enjoy the beautiful results
Every brand manager and company executive has a choice in what grows in the portfolio. But since there never seems to be a perfect time to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t, let this spring be the time you look things over. Have a plan, weed accordingly and be willing to trim some products that take on the appearance of good health but in reality suck the life out of the brand. In the end, you’ll have a stronger brand, build better brand tribes and have the resources to continue your passion.

This article is an edited version of the original LinkedIn post: It’s Spring. Time to Weed Your Brand.

LPK Vice President and Managing Creative Director Kelly Smith works across LPK’s portfolio, transforming organizations and building B2B and B2C brands—from small family-owned businesses to Fortune 50 companies. When Kelly’s not immersed in organizational change issues, you’ll find him buried in a business book, playing his guitar or chasing a triathlon personal record. Follow him on Twitter at @thinkhaus1 or drop him a line at kelly.smith@lpk.com

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