Golden Arches Lessons in Fishing Brands: Part 2

Article by Ronell Smith

In the first piece in this series, I provided several simple tips for recognizing the most important elements of your brand. But what if the image projected by your brand is anything but positive? In such cases, there is much work to be done, but know that it is doable.

In fact, some of today’s most successful brand—including Toyota and Wal-Mart—once had seemingly insurmountable image issues.

For our purposes, however, let’s look at a more recent example: McDonald’s, the ubiquitous restaurant chain. With the nation’s obesity rate at public health-threat levels, the fast food juggernaut has been held up as the symbol of gluttony in this country. Everything from the company’s food production practices to its cheap prices, which critics say makes junk food much to easy to access, has been assailed in the media.

Talk about being backed in a corner. As a company with tens of billions in annual revenue, abandoning its core menu items was out of the question. But any changes they made had to be meaningful. So, smartly, the company added more “healthy” items to the menu, including fruit and oatmeal, diversified by adding more smoothies and coffee-blended drinks, cut back on the portion sizes of offerings such as french fries and, maybe be most important, confronted the criticism head-on by reaching out to prominent bloggers, who were some of the company’s most vociferous opponents.

Notice they did not totally revamp the company, which would have (a) been dumb and (b) served to alienate its base. What they did, in my opinion, was the smartest course of action: change where they must, but no more than they had to. The result? The company gained market share.

What lessons can our industry glean from this parable when trying to restore a lackluster fishing brand.

1.    Cling to your core. The simplest (though certainly not the cheapest or the easiest) fix in repairing a brand would seem to be wholesale changes, removing everything that consumers associate with the brand, including logos. The thinking there is that if those elements that arouse negative feelings are no longer around, the brand is better off. The thinking is wrong. Like McDonalds, you need to change, but changing more than needed could be costly, or fatal. With some research you’ll uncover the core of your brand, those things that consumers appreciate and would never want to see changed. One word of caution: Don’t trust your gut. Anglers, vendors and even media can be invaluable here.

2.    Don’t change for changes sake. When faced with daunting criticism, the first thing you must do is block the noise. With information coming at you from all sides, you need to know what/who you can trust. One of the first things you need to come to grips with is change for the sake of change is a bad idea. Any change needs to be meaningful, have resonance with your brand’s core audience. First, look for the low-hanging fruit, things you can change with very little investment. Next, look to make changes that will silence your most vocal opponents, then work to anticipate setbacks that might invite even more backlash against your brand. It’s not enough to quash the perception of your brand in the marketplace; you need to be on the lookout for anything that could potentially work against your branding message.

3.    Think relaunch, but don’t afraid to rebrand. Try as we might, some things are not worth fixing. That could be the case with your brand. This is something I see all the time, especially when a company acquires a neglected brand without doing its research. In a low-margin, highly competitive industry, where resources are very much limited, it might make more sense to kill a brand and start over. Again, research can provide those answers.

4.    Understand that you cannot fix your way to success. Even if  you are one of the lucky ones, and the brand you now own can be salvaged, you aren’t out of the woods yet. Absence of problems does not make for success. You’ve just got back to neutral, and the climb gets even more steep, especially considering that consumers are less likely to give you a second chance. Look to add products or services that are more brand extensions than potential blockbusters. When restoring a brand credibility means more than anything, and if you can gain credibility while growing sales, you are well on your way.

For the purposes of keeping this piece at a manageable length, I’m grossly oversimplifying many of these points. But the important thing to remember is that a worthwhile brand can be restored, though that says nothing of whether or not it should be restored. In the next and final installment, I shed some light on how you can make your brand stick out in a crowded marketplace.

Ronell Smith is widely considered as one of the top industry, tackle and business insiders for the sport fishing industry. His paid-subscriber newsletter, The Tackle insider, is available at Follow him on Twitter and FaceBook.