What To Do Before You Discontinue a Brand

Many companies, large and small, are faced with the idea that a brand name might die off, might have died off or be struggling. Macy’s killed off great brands like Marshall Field’s, Burdine’s, A&S, May Company, Foley’s and the like. They lost massive market share, and did not have to. Their company has tanked, and the ill will they created in city after city has caused them misery. Thankfully, many who created the situation are gone.

Eventually, entrepreneur Ellia Kassoff of the California Company Strategic Marks, filed for the trademarks, and actually won a lawsuit against Macy’s in February of last year, as he kept rights to brands that included May Co., Robinson’s, Bullock’s and I. Magnin. In addition, he won the rights to former Boston department store Jordan Marsh, East Coast brand Bamberger’s and Houston department store Foley’s. Macy’s won other brands back, but so far has done little to take advantage of their equity, a year later. Pitiful.

Going Forward

What do you do when you have an extra brand. You know that the brand still has value. But how? Does it have value as a store brand? As a licensed brand? As a Christmas novelty brand? How can it still hold its value, when its stores are all Macy’s? Do you write the value of the brand down and move on?

The key is to understand first what was, and then see if there are DIFFERENT avenues to preserve the brand equity.

Before you consign your brand to the dustbin of brand history, look at these simple steps that might allow you to not only extract value out of your brand, but to give your company a competitive advantage.

  1. Do some research. Find out all the history of the brand, how it was founded, how it changed, what things remain that are worth saving. That doesn’t mean just researching clippings. It means talking to retired staffers, who know why things worked, and why things didn’t. Find out all you can; the reason why the brand is failing might be totally obvious. For instance, before Woolworth was killed off, did the F.W. Woolworth lunch counters have a future as a spin off or as a licensed brand? This process is not about finding out just about what went wrong, but what works. Get in touch with your local historical society. They know more than you think.
  2. Post your assets and intellectual property. Look up all media and advertising relating to the brand. Are there places where the brand has appeared in the media, in movies, in commercials, or in company photographs? Make sure ALL of that content goes into the web universe, with links to your current company site, and the URL. This will at least make sure the whole brand story is told.
  3. Give it away. If the brand is inexpensive, why not give a few versions away? Or at least make some T-shirts out of the best version of the logo, and give them out to staff, vendors and distributors of the brand. Giving always works, and a T-shirt is one of the best forms of advertising. You might even be able to sell a few.
  4. Look for fans. Are there people on eBay who buy versions of your product? Are there fan clubs, collectors, hipsters and oldsters who like the brand and have stuck by it? For instance, General Motors could keep its Olds brand alive by owning the fan clubs, parts stores and other pieces of the company that still have value. This may not be much money, but it can preserve the rights to the trademark.
  5. End all advertising. For the moment. Sometimes, the whole infrastructure of advertising and marketing is expensive and time consuming, and if a brand is failing, it isn’t working. So stop, to start over. Remember, there are many products that are not advertised in traditional media. Old brands like Tab diet cola have niche markets, and are not advertised as much as they were. When you figure out what went wrong and where you want to go, you can go back to a new campaign. For brands that are already dead, don’t assume you need to do much of advertising. If the equity is there, you won’t need as much as a new brand. The key is to actually begin producing the product again in small batches.
  6. Don’t redo the logo. The obvious temptation for an old, failing brand is to change the logo and do something fresh. Now, there is nothing wrong with that per se. But you don’t want to do it out of fear. You’ll want to redo a logo based on the facts. Before you switch a logo, you need to find out why the CURRENT state of the product is not working. A new logo won’t fix an ailing brand. In the case of a brand that is already COMPLETELY dead, look at all the different versions of the logo to see which is best.
  7. Fix legal ends. First rule of trademarks is use it or lose it! Make sure all the legal stuff is nailed down, so you can, in good faith, hold onto your rights to the brand. Do you own the URL? Are all patents in place? Are all issues of trade dress, sub-brands and trademarks sorted out? Is the trademark owned by a fully owned but independent licensing LLC so it can be valued as a line item on your main company balance sheet? Can you preserve the integrity of the brand name by using your old brand as a subsidiary corporation that could be sold, or spun off?
  8. Consider licensing and internal store brands. Consider contacting a brand licensing firm. These companies (and we can recommend a few) can see if there are other opportunities for your brand name outside of your company. This sort of thing is not just for Disney merchandise. It might mean that there is a brand extension on a related product. Perhaps your local restaurant is closing, but you have some good recipes and a dressing that you can license to a local grocer? Think about ways the brand can be relevant, even if it changes.
  9. Sell commemorative and specialty products. Many brands only appear intermittently. For instance, many consumer products companies come out with specialty Christmas products. This even works for retailing. So if your coffee brand isn’t selling much, but sells a few at Christmas, why not issue a special commemorative version? Candy and food manufacturers are good at this.
  10. Pray. We are totally serious about this one. Whatever your religious affiliation, very often pride, greed and all those other sins get in the way of a good decision. Perhaps you’ve made some mistakes with the brand. It first might seem easier to kill it off, as those embarrassing screw ups can be blamed on “customers” and “changing times.” Brutal honesty will get you in the right place so that you can figure out the truth of what went wrong. Come clean, and you can correct it.

About to kill off a brand? Don’t. Instead, E-mail us now.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *