And for my next trick ...

Scoring a big brand hit can be a hard enough task, but keeping the momentum going is even harder, reports Claire Murphy.

In the music world, it's known as the 'difficult second album' syndrome: when you've created a huge success, how do you follow it up?

On the face of it, every marketer would like to suffer from the problem, but launching a spectacularly popular product, ad campaign or promotion is only half the job. If you raise the profile of your brand, you risk consumer boredom once the novelty wears off.

Sustaining momentum is the next challenge for the marketers who bred Walkers Sensations, for example, a sub-brand that became so popular it brought in £78m worth of sales in its first year. Or Puma, the latest fashion brand to be seen in all the right places.

Fashion is a sector that invariably suffers from changing fads. Everyone in marketing wanted to be associated with Burberry two years ago after the famous check adorned a bikini modelled by Kate Moss and rocketed the brand into the limelight, but it has since suffered from over-exposure and unwanted associations (see box).

Once a marketing team has delivered a big hit, though, support is easier to win from senior management, sales and finance. British Bakeries divisional marketing director Paula Moss says the year after the successful Hovis relaunch was the only time in her career when her fourth-quarter budget wasn't cut back.

When the company launched vitamin-enriched loaf V-Force this year, it managed to get huge supermarket listings for it on the back of the Hovis revamp and the successful launch of Best of Both. But V-Force didn't live up to the expectation.

Arguably the first of the 90s mega-relaunches, Tango made careers and profits for all associated with it, but the launch of Still Tango two years later showed how easy it is to spoil a good thing.

Spoof ads from Britvic at launch warned customers to avoid Still Tango; weeks later the company had to run serious ads asking consumers not to drink it because it was fermenting on shelves and making people ill. More than one million products were recalled. By the end of the decade, Tango was registering double-digit drops in sales and has allowed Coca-Cola back into the fight with a revitalised Fanta.

After a high-profile launch there is also a danger that some members of the original marketing team find better jobs elsewhere. Nothing wrong with that, except that with each new intake of marketers the original core message of the brand can become more diluted.

People often leave the place where they scored a big hit because the post-launch phase can seem anticlimactic. "It's like having a baby," says Chris Wood, chief executive of branding agency Corporate Edge. "Conception is fun, everything is new and exciting in the next nine months, then you've got all the exhaustion once you've got the baby.

"The irony is that, like a baby, the first years of a brand's life are even more crucial to its long-term development than its time in gestation."

Some companies, says Wood, make the mistake of thinking that marketing support can be reduced once a product has been born. "But all the competitors you've taken sales from in year one will come right back at you in year two," he points out.

This is particularly true of FMCG markets, where consumers are happy to try something novel and brands can gain very healthy first-year sales figures. But it can take two years before the brand finds a place in consumers' established repertoires.

A more beneficial approach is to regard the launch as phase one in a long-term plan of market attack. Andrew Harrison, the marketing director in charge of Nestle Rowntree's successful launch of Nestle Double Cream, says he regards sticking rigorously to the original management recommendation document as the only way to go post-launch.

"We're pleased with how well the brand has done in its first year, but I'll see the true measure of success after year two or year three," he argues.

By that stage, most marketers are well into brand extension territory.

This is an essential part of broadening a brand's scope and represents a cost-effective way of achieving incremental sales at relatively low cost.

However - and this applies particularly to a brand that has established strong consumer engagement from the outset - marketers also need to consider the opportunities for what authors Philip Kotler and Fernando Trias de Bes refer to as "lateral marketing" in their book of the same name. Put simply, this means moving into other markets or usage occasions with your original idea.

Kimberly-Clark, for example, maintained the success of Huggies nappies with the even more victorious Huggies Pull-Ups. The company effectively created a market: pant-style nappies for toilet-training toddlers.

Whether you are creating new uses for your original brand proposition or making the original product available in different sizes, colours or flavours, it's self-evident that consumers want to see the brand constantly refreshed.

But isn't 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' one of the best business maxims? Part of the answer lies in isolating what made the original such a success and carrying that forward, rather than the creative interpretation.

Unilever scored a huge hit with its 'Pulse' ad for Lynx earlier this year. It showed a young man dancing with two women in a bar and was so popular it attracted £2m worth of PR, including spots on Richard and Judy and Boys and Girls. Despite its profile, the brand team and agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty knew they had to come up with something new to keep up with 16- to 24-year-old men.

"We realised that a key factor with Pulse was the simple concept. We've stuck with that for the two ads we've aired for Lynx since then," says Jo Teasdale, UK brand manger for Lynx. "It was appealing and fun, and had two key elements - the clear logo and the dance - that we could move to other communications."

But the most important lesson, she says, was realising how the brand struck gold by sticking so closely to the brand's core message - helping young men meet women. "We haven't always been so consistent with that message, but we are now," she adds.

For Lynx, it is crucial to keep moving on, but in other marketing scenarios it is tempting to leave some elements alone if they work.

Marketers following up a radical launch or relaunch face the dilemma of wondering, say, how much to alter a striking packaging design.

British Bakeries' Moss is seeing pitches from design agencies for Hovis.

One was honest enough to tell her it wasn't sure if it could recommend any changes to what was obviously a highly effective pack design.

"It made me realise how much of a risk we take in the follow-up phase," says Moss. "We have to be careful not to lose all that's been achieved."

BIG HITS AND THEIR FOLLOW-UPS

KIT KAT CHUNKY 1999 ... KIT KAT KUBES 2003

Kit Kat Chunky was Nestle's most successful launch for a decade, selling 250 million bars in its year after launch to boost the confectionery market leader. Despite various other limited editions and brand extensions (mint, orange, white, a giant version), sales haven't sustained the momentum of Chunky, and the brand's value dropped 7% to £90m this year. All eyes are on Kubes, the latest extension.

Verdict: An unexpected isolated hit for an old favourite, now on a comeback tour, but can it work?

WALKERS SENSATIONS 2002 ... WALKERS SENSATIONS CRACKERS 2003

When you're managing the biggest brand in a sector (indeed, the biggest-selling UK FMCG brand), it's hard to pull a spectacular rabbit out of the hat, and even harder to keep doing it (see Kit Kat). But Walkers, led by president of Walkers Snacks Martin Glenn, engineered a huge hit with Sensations, its attempt to own the evening snacking sector. At £78m, Sensations is now bigger than Kellogg's Corn Flakes. The follow-up, Oriental crackers, is already worth £20m.

Verdict: This brand has consistently gathered pace. A roaring success.

HOVIS RELAUNCH 2001 ... LAUNCH OF HOVIS BEST OF BOTH 2002

The Hovis relaunch was spectacular enough, with bold pack designs stopping consumers in the supermarket aisles, earning Hovis the top spot in the bread market and a 12% hike in sales to £195m. A year later, British Bakeries followed through with the launch of Best of Both (white bread with bits of brown), now a £40m brand. Two-thirds of buyers have been converted from paying about 20p for a loaf of bread to parting with 70p.

Verdict: Two big hits in a row.

BURBERRY RELAUNCH 1997 ... WHERE TO IN 2004?

A textbook relaunch by Burberry chief executive Rose Marie Bravo had turned it from a fusty old brand into a Vogue staple, thanks to innovative designs, edgy press ads and celebrity associations, such as Kate Moss (left). Sales grew from £225.7m in the year to March 31 2000 to £499.2m in 2002 amid a volley of brand extensions. But moving on has turned out to be tricky, not least because the brand has become associated with football hooligans, and sales fell back to £225.7m in 2003.

Verdict: Peers still respect how the brand revamped, but Burberry did not maintain the momentum to capitalise long-term.

THE EXPERT'S VIEW

Jon Goldstone, marketing director, Walkers We had high hopes for Sensations. We knew there was a great opportunity to own the evening snacks sector and research had shown us this new kind of premium crisp would go down well with consumers. So we planned for sales of between £16m and £18m between the April 2002 launch and December that year.

Just a few weeks after launch, we knew it was going to be way more successful than that. Consumers were going mad for it; we had the production lines going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and still we couldn't keep up with demand. We had to pull the advertising after the first week to dampen demand. By December, sales were worth £48m.

The effects have been felt right through the business. It's been really uplifting and makes you realise that anything is possible.

I've had enquiries from Frito Lay companies all over the world that are considering launching their own versions. We probably have about a dozen enquiries a day from agencies trying to pitch us ideas for the brand, and we get piles of high-quality applications for marketing vacancies.

I've been lucky to hang on to most of the marketing team - we've only had one person leave out of 30 in the department this year and I know that's unusual, especially post-launch.

The launch was a real buzz, and the challenge this year has been to retain that level of excitement. When the Sensations team met at the beginning of this year I said to them that we'd just have to pretend it's another launch to keep ourselves motivated.

We were determined to keep it fresh to keep consumers interested, so we launched a new flavour this year - Slow Roasted Lamb & Mint - as well as the Oriental Crackers. And we're planning to launch premium nut clusters under the Sensations brand for Christmas.

It's all very well lighting a fire in the first place. The really hard job is to keep it glowing.

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