Chapter 1: Declining Category or Subcategory

Stick to Your Knitting

Reposition the Brand

Gain Parity

Leapfrog the Innovation

Disinvest or Exit

Select the Right Response



Chapter 2: Losing Energy Relevance

Energize the Offering

Energize Marketing

Create an Ownable, Internal Branded Energizer

Find an External Branded Energizer

Branded Energizer Guidelines



Chapter 3: A Brand Negative Becomes a Reason Not to Buy

Negate the Negatives

Change the Discussion



Chapter 4: The Three Brand Relevance Threats

About the Author

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Other Titles by David Aaker

Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant


ISBN 978-0-470-61358-0



If you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

—Will Rogers

What is brand relevance? At the most basic level, to be relevant is to remain in a customer’s “consideration set” when the customer is making a purchase within a category like cars or a subcategory such as hybrid sedans. Your brand is losing brand relevance if an increasing number of customers stop believing that your brand is an acceptable choice worth considering. It is in danger of becoming yesterday’s brand.

Losing relevance can be crippling and even fatal. It not only undercuts a source of sales and profits but also creates negative business momentum, which affects the organization’s motivation and its ability to create successful growth initiatives. In addition, when a brand’s reputation and customer base erode, the potential to use the brand to support new business opportunities is reduced. The cost of a brand decline is thus even higher than it may at first appear.

Threats to brand relevance are always lurking around the corner. Your brand is almost never immune from the risk of being obsolete rather than today’s option, fading rather than being energized, or of being damaged rather than strengthened. These threats can sneak up, with little warning, on executive teams that are focused on competitors and on programs to grow their business. Without the company’s understanding the nature of the threats, being vigilant in detection, and getting aggressive in response strategies, the brand can falter—and worse.

What are the three threats to brand relevance?

One threat is a decline in category or subcategory relevance. Customers simply no longer want to buy what you are making, even though your offering may still be of high quality and the customers who remain still love it.

A second threat is the loss of energy relevance. Without energy, the brand simply does not come to mind as other, more visible brands crowd it out. In addition, a decline in energy can degrade the brand’s image and create a perception that it is locked in the past, suitable only for an older generation.

The third threat is the emergence of a reason not to buy. The brand may have a perceived quality problem or be associated with a firm policy that is not acceptable. In any case, it is dismissed from consideration because it is judged to be unacceptable with respect to a must-have offering dimension.

This piece will describe these three relevance threats and consider active ways to deal with them or prevent their occurring. These methods should be part of every firm’s review of brand strategy.

Chapter 1

Declining Category or Subcategory

A brand can lose relevance because the category (wine) or subcategory (Chardonnay) to which it is attached is in decline. Losing relevance in this way is insidious in part because it can happen even if the brand is strong, the customers are loyal, and the offering, benefiting from incremental innovations, has never been better. Further, the loss of relevance can happen gradually over time, making it hard to detect.