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Reviving tired brands and categories: Ford, hand dryers and Steven Tyler

Andy Coville · July 7th, 2011

Relevance, as we’ve been saying, is paramount in this noisy era when so many communications gambits fail to win our attention. That’s why we can learn so much from the rare person, company or product that comes roaring into relevance. Or becomes relevant again.

I’ve got three examples on my mind today.

Ford. A few years ago, Ford was just another U.S. automaker being schooled by the Japanese and headed for bankruptcy. My, how things change. In 2009, Ford bravely turns away a government bailout. The company introduces new, greener and more affordable models. Customers are delighted.

In Q1 2011, the company announces a $2.55 billion profit, its best quarter since 1998. Ford’s 2010 sales beat 2009’s by 19 percent, a larger margin than any full-line automaker. Its stock price soars to $14.12 today, up from $1.26 on Nov. 19, 2008. J.D. Power quality ratings rise. (Even the much-maligned Ford Pinto is suddenly drenched in nostalgia.)

As we’ve said, relevance is a function of experiences that go beyond the rational. Did rejecting the bailout engage peoples’ values to reheat the brand?

Hand dryers. Hand dryers? Yes, hand dryers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t tried one of the new, turbocharged XLERATOR or Dyson hand dryers. Not only do they actually dry your hands versus breathe warm air on them (eureka!), but they practically blow you off your feet. Their drying speed relieves patron traffic jams at the movies. Their novelty puts forgotten gas stations on the map. Their power has spawned a new YouTube genre: hijinx in the public restroom. Someone even created a mobile app to tell you where to find them. Transcending the rational, these new hand dryers are all about senses and emotions.

Steven Tyler. Advancing age, squabbles with the band and falls from the wagon pushed the former Aerosmith frontman into irrelevance in recent years. Then he joins “American Idol” (itself headed for obscurity) and becomes everybody’s favorite judge. It’s not that he’s better at judging; he just clicks with us. Suddenly, the ladylike dude matters again.

Now in our view, something’s relevant only when it’s powerful enough to prompt behavior change: a vague shift in perception isn’t enough. In this case, we can measure Tyler’s relevance in readers of his memoir, purchases of Aerosmith music (up 250 percent) and viewers turning back to “Idol” after many thought it was washed up.

Those are three examples off the top of my head. All somehow delighted us, or at least triggered an emotional response. What’s relevant to you these days? And are you still relevant? Are you triggering senses, emotions, values and social impulses? If not, how can you stage your own comeback?

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One Response to “Reviving tired brands and categories: Ford, hand dryers and Steven Tyler”

  1. Louetta Mart says:

    One of the tests of leadership will be the ability to recognize a problem before it is deemed an emergency.
    We are most certainly not someone who have to be prodded. In reality, however, We are the prod.