How does something go from being a perfectly oiled machine to a train wreck? Have you ever been immersed in something and it was progressing great? It was like you had the Midas touch. I’m talking you’re so smokin’ hot you’re on fire great. Then all of the sudden, POW right in the kisser and you’re laid out flat seeing stars. Has this happened to you? It’s happened to me, metaphorically speaking of course. The blueprints of life and business are fraught with all sorts of land mines. Mishaps wreak havoc on our juju…our brand. Your brand is that ‘thing’ that defines you and makes you, well, you. Unique. And whether it’s a company brand or our personal brand, mayhem is non-discriminating. It lurks in dark corners waiting to suck the oxygen out of the room and test our will.
Brands lose favor for too many reasons to list. They may be overshadowed by other brands. Brands stumble and fall from grace losing our trust. Sometimes, a brand gets left behind because its shepherd fell asleep under the comfortable shade of a tree and neglected the flock. Regardless of why it happens, when it happens it doesn’t have to spell instant death. It can crack the door for a good old-fashioned revival.
I love a comeback. Yet when you’re down not everyone wants to see you get back up. When I see someone go down for the count, I will them to get back up. I’m like Mickey Goldmill, Rocky Balboa’s trainer, lying on my stomach, face to face, slamming the palm of my hand against the floor to the rhythm of my voice yelling, “GET UP, GET UP!” I know it sounds corny, but I like seeing people turn things around…kind of do the impossible. And why wouldn’t I? Why not cheer on the underdog? I could be the underdog. There is this obscure thought lurking in the farthest outpost of my brain and it whispers, “If they can do it, so can you Gayla Ouellette, so can you!”
Charlie Sheen is the proverbial poster child for a brand gone majorly awry. Talk about sailing along with the wind to your back, then all of the sudden Ka-Blam – capsize. Here’s a guy who is handsome, talented, funny, and established, with the hottest sitcom on television. He’s even got a great head of hair. He’s at the top of his game, making oodles of cash. Whatever the magic formula is, it seems to be working like a charm. Then things suddenly, unexpectedly start to unravel, like a loose strand in a Berber carpet. If you’ve had Berber carpet then you know, what ever you do (cue megaphone), “Step away from the loose strand; what ever you do, DO NOT pull the loose strand.” It’s a continuous loop of filament and once you tug on it something that started off as seemingly minor now resembles the Sahara desert. All of a sudden Mr. Great Hair was jettisoned knee deep into the middle of the Charlie Sheen Sahara desert. I suppose most of the planet heard Charlie’s meltdown that followed. I think they heard it as far away as Mars. When the sand storm passed, Charlie admitted that although he was ranting to anyone within earshot, “I’m Winning,” well he wasn’t. There is something inherently appealing about Charlie’s ability to mock himself, his self-deprecating humor and ability to admit he messed up. This makes him endearingly human. And this friends, is precisely why I’m rooting for a Charlie Sheen comeback. He’s delightfully imperfect (and yes quirky), just like the rest of us.
Not all brands go up in a fiery ball of flame. There are brands that manage to ride a wave for decades with few obstacles, and then slowly lose their intensity. Old Spice is a scent that personified a generation of American fathers and a staple on bathroom shelves across the country, in between the Anacin, Ultra-Brite and Breck shampoo. The problem was as our dads aged, so did the brand. After a run of nearly 60 years, Old Spice, well, it just got old. It made a clever comeback thanks to social media, the addition of new products, and the introduction of Old Spice Man…who for the record could be called ‘Super Fine, Shirtless, Not So Old, Old Spice Man’. Old Spice Man’s message for the ladies, “I’m the man your man could smell like.” A hugely popular series of online ads went viral and catapulted Old Spice into an entirely new market, the grandson’s of the first generation consumers. Long time brands Marvel comics and Jim Henson’s Muppets made show-stopping comebacks introducing a team of spandex clad Super Heroes and a frog and his eclectic show biz buddies to an entirely new demographic. Harley Davidson, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in the early 80’s, pulled a brilliant coup d’état by focusing almost entirely on things that the competition couldn’t do. Employing the strategy “turn left when the competition turns right,” they masterfully weaved this theory into each of the four P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Place, Promotion, tossing in one more P for good measure, People – which I think was the most critical component in their success.
One comeback I’m following closely now is JCP, the 100-year old retailer formerly known as JC Penny. Rather than standing around the water cooler waiting for the recession to lift, like virtually every other retailer, they are taking bold action to claim the throne. After introducing a new pricing structure, they are changing their stores, who they talk to, and how they communicate. They are reshaping both the mindset of their customers and the people within their company. The JCP philosophy, “Our number-one competitor is ourselves. Our number-two competitor is everyone else.” In this economic climate it’s the most daring attempt at a revival I’ve seen any company undertake. Bravo!
Arguably the most famous comeback story of them all is Steve Jobs and Apple. In the mid 1980’s, the company co-founded by Jobs was a 2 billion dollar business with 4000 employees thanks to the Macintosh computer. In 1985, after losing a power struggle with the Apple board of directors, Steve Jobs was basically fired from his own company. Defeated, Jobs went on to build other brands. One was a little animation movie company now owned by Disney, called Pixar. While Jobs drowned his sorrows channeling creative energy into just about anything he could get his hands on, Apple floundered. In 1996, Apple purchased NeXT, a computer platform owned by Jobs, to serve as its new Mac operating system. The deal made Jobs an Apple advisor and returned him to his old haunt. As Apple continued its decline, Jobs once again took the reigns of the troubled company. Over the course of the next decade he oversaw the development of a bunch of random gizmo’s and gadgets that all had funny little i’s preceding their names…and well, the rest is history. The resurrection of Steve Jobs ‘the brand’ and the Apple brand is as legendary as comebacks get.
One more reason why I love a comeback? After all the chaos of the past four years I’m just plain hungry to accentuate the positive. I’m tired of being inundated with bad news when I switch on the TV, or launch a web browser. I’m weary of the perpetual struggle that’s nipping at our ankles like a puppy with razor sharp teeth. Companies are struggling and people are hurting. It doesn’t make me feel better about myself or my company to see others fail. I want to see people succeed because I’m selfish. It makes me feel good. And if that brand happens to be my competitor, well it only inspires me to work harder and become better.
Dolly Parton said it best, “I’m never going to be a Meryl Streep. But then, she’ll never be a Dolly Parton either. Be true to you!” Oh, did I mention that Dolly managed a comeback or two? So, here’s to all the underdogs – the Charlie’s, Dolly’s, Steve’s, Harley’s, Marvel’s, Apple’s, JCP’s, Old Spice Men, little green frogs, and pigs in evening gowns. Go you!
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. –Steve Jobs