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Archive for December, 2008

The Shape of the Humble Egg Can Key Pleasing Product Design

Monday, December 29th, 2008

by Geoff Ficke

I have written often about the overwhelming importance of design in successfully differentiating and branding products. We all know examples of well-designed products that become standards. The Ferrari sports car, the Rolex watch, the Barbie Doll, a Krups toaster or the PEZ candy dispenser are obvious examples of packaging, or product design that become ubiquitous to consumers around the world. When the rare Ferrari Testarossa roars by on the highway, we instantly know that the “yellow prancing horse” badge sits proudly and desirably on the world’s most exotically styled automobile.

One of the most famous industrial designers of the 20th century was Raymond Loewy. Born in France, Mr. Loewy became the designer of choice for manufacturers of consumable and non-consumable consumer products, industrial transport and corporate logo’s as a result of the simple design cues that he often built his products around. Visitors to the Loewy shop often noted that there was a bowl of eggs prominently placed in his office. Eggs were a real creative prop for all of Loewy’s associates. They were not on hand to be deviled and eaten.

Raymond Loewy felt that the egg was nature’s perfect shape. The egg is oval, circular, oblong, smooth, white, and a peculiar combination of strong and brittle. No other shape is so compelling. When viewed it is pleasing, when held it is comforting. He made every effort to utilize the splendid inherent design features of the egg in his industrial design work. The simplicity of the shape became identifiable in “Loewy product designs”.

A list of the famous products, packages and corporate logo’s that Loewy crafted during his long career is an amazing valediction of his creativity and range. The following is a list of a few of the works of Raymond Loewy:

Gestetner Mimeograph Machine           - Pennsylvania Rail Road Locomotives          - Schick Electric Shaver          - IBM Key Punch          - Coca Cola Bottle and Logo          - Leisurama Homes 

- Lucky Strike Cigarettes Logo          - New York City Transit Train R40 Car         - NASA Sky Lab Interior          - Exxon Logo          - Shell Oil Logo          - Studebaker Avannti & Commander Auto

- Frigidaire          - Panama Line Cruise Ship Interiors          - Wahl Eversharp Fountain Pen           – International Harvestor Logo          - Dorsett Catalina Pleasure Boat          - Zippo Lighter

- Sears Cold Spot Refrigerator          - Huppmobile Auto's         - 1947 Filben Jukebox          - Greyhound Scenicruiser bus                                       

This is an impressive list and many of these products are considered timeless and cutting edge to this day. Motor Trend and Car & Driver Magazine list the Studebaker Commander as among the most beautifully designed cars of the 1950’s. Loewy designed locomotives of the 1940’s are treated as classic art by railway buffs. In almost every one of these designs the styling cues taken from the egg are visible to even the most untrained eye. Industrial design students study Loewy crafted products just as art students study Rembrandt or Picasso.

Companies and entrepreneurs that revere and diligently work for highly stylized designs are much more likely to succeed in both the short and long run. Consider Ralph Lauren’s Polo lines of clothing. The attention to detail, design, quality and manic maintenance of the brand as a lifestyle product has established Polo as a classic, decade after decade. Calvin Klein clothing enjoys a similar status based on the brands positioning as cutting edge, urban styling. The Benetton brand, on the other hand, was immensely successful in the 1980’s. However, the Company did not maintain its design creativity and has largely been in decline.

Of course today, the automobile industry is being roiled by production overcapacity issues, a global credit crisis and high fuel prices. In no industry is design as crucial as in the car business. And yet, it is almost impossible to differentiate one car from another on modern roads. The success of BMW’s Mini, the new Volkswagen Beetle, the Cadillac CTS, the Mazda Miata and the Buick Enclave are due almost entirely to their unique, sleek body styles. They are nowhere near the cheapest vehicles in their categories. They simply scream “cool, buy me”! Why do so many other car manufacturers not take note of the importance of differentiating, compelling design features when producing box-like, indifferent, cookie cutter travel conveyances totally lacking in special personality.

Every aspect of a products design and presentation is crucial to creating a strong, lasting brand identity in the target consumers mind.  The logo must reflect the features, benefits and positioning that is unique to a product. The packaging must stand up to the competition and support the branding message being conveyed. The products logo, iconography, colors, printing fonts and package copy must be married to the container and the contents of the product itself. Well designed products seem natural, seamless. They draw the eye. They do not attack the senses.

Raymond Loewy’s use of the egg as a favored creative prop is a clever device that can easily be copied. The egg would seem, as a basic foodstuff, not to offer much for industrial designers by way of providing inspiration. Nevertheless, Loewy had an eye for simple, elegant styling and saw unique art properties in the shape of the egg. These he utilized fully and created his own unique design style. The potential to replicate this use of naturally occurring or man-made design features is omnipresent. The successful new product will incorporate the best possible creative devices borrowed from wherever they can be harvested.

The Natural Limits of Entrepreneurship

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

I have had the opportunity to work with literally hundreds of individuals who have attempted to become successful entrepreneurs. It is always fascinating to observe the difficulties that always confront people seeking to expand their range from one field of endeavor to another and how they handle obstacles. If it was easy everyone would try and the majority would succeed. In reality, only a few try and far fewer succeed.

I am reminded of a story about a United States Naval Academy graduate who rose to become a Fleet Admiral. One day he was on Chesapeake Bay on a friend’s 40 foot sail boat. The owner asked the Admiral if he would like to dock the sail boat. “No way”, said the Admiral. “I would not know how to handle this little boat in these winds and currents, you are experienced with her, you handle her”.

This is a classic example of a man knowing his limitations. Most people have some area of expertise in their arsenal of life’s experiences. They often utilize this expertise in pursuit of a hobby or in their work. The opportunity to hone and improve skills in a specific area where they have talent often leads to innovation that can be commercialized.

We all know the person who is able to build things with their hands. The artisan craftsmanship that they produce can become a lucrative business or enriching hobby. The entrepreneurial craftsman, or artist, enjoys the wonderful luxury of being able to make their living doing something that they enjoy and find fulfilling.

The true entrepreneur knows his limitations. This natural skill barrier, however, does not deter this innovator from finding a path to successfully commercializing their idea. If deficient in some areas, say sales, marketing, logistics, or planning, this person recognizes that expertise in these skills can be obtained from many sources. The dreamer, or faux-entrepreneur, sees this type of hurdle as a reason, really an excuse, to quit.

Very few people have the intangible ingredients necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. Most people dream about innovation, new ideas or starting their own business. These wannabe’s will never get much further than the dream sequence in turning their wishes into realities. They can never quite find the right time, the right place, or the right platform to launch their concept and turn it into a going concern. There is always a reason not to move ahead.

I often lecture at university business schools on the topic of entrepreneurship. The question most often posed to me is, “what makes a successful entrepreneur”? There is no definitive answer to that question. It is a bit like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s response when he was asked to if he knew how to define pornography. He replied simply, “I don’t have the definition; I just know it when I see it”.

It is much the same when we meet potential clients seeking to take the entrepreneurial plunge. The courage, vision and willingness to soak up knowledge that is so essential to successfully competing for commercial success is rarely evident. Most people are destined, and should continue to pursue their current life’s work. The ability to overcome repeated obstacles, keep fighting and never quit in the pursuit of a goal is quite simply not present in most people. Most people do not make the cut as entrepreneurs, but we do know potential entrepreneurs when we meet them.

Entrepreneurs have a positive personality. They see the possible and recognize that the word “no”, really just means “not now”. Obstacles are simply challenges to be overcome. They have the courage to take risks, and recognize that success is not assured. The competitive juices run deep in true entrepreneurs and they possess a real independent streak that is lacking in most people.

I know people in the fourth quarter of their lives that are sad, disappointed, some bitter, about the course they have chosen and the lot they have been dealt. I am sad for them. They have missed out on many of life’s greatest opportunities that come from pursuit of a goal, the chase, the struggle and the attainment of success.

In the 21st century it seems as if the pursuit of security and avoidance of risk is the chief goal of many people. That is fine for them. I would argue that the greatest risk is to live a life without challenges, working for stretch goals and basking in the glow of success that can best be secured when dreams become realities. The happiest people I know are entrepreneurial. They live full lives, commercially, spiritually and psychologically. In their life’s fourth quarter they have a treasure chest of accomplishments and memories that they know they will leave behind. The footprint they make on life is significant and memorable. They make the world a much better place for their contributions to it.

What Potato Chips Can Teach Entrepreneurs?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

America, and the developed world, is saturated with cheap, convenient, pre-packaged snack foods. These tasty treats are available in sweet, salty, chilled, or warmed styles and presentations. None is more popular, and ubiquitous, than the potato chip.

The potato chip in America was historically a very local mom and pop business until the 1930’s. The end product, the potato chip crisps; were very difficult to ship, handle and preserve without advanced packaging techniques. Prior to the invention of coated bagging components, chips were made in local kitchens and sold in a few local stores, typically out of barrels. As soon as the barrels were opened, and the shop owner scooped the sold product for the consumer, air entered the barrels and the potato chips became stale. Consumers of these chips were taught to heat the chips at home before serving to mitigate the lack of freshness.

This type of trade was adequate for a local service business model, but it did not allow for economies of scale or national distribution. In addition, each town and region developed a favorite type of chip that enjoyed local popularity only. The opportunity was ripe for an entrepreneur to consolidate and commercialize the snack business in a major way and revolutionize the category.

That entrepreneur was Herman Lay. Mr. Lay was a route salesman for the Barrett Food Company of Atlanta. He sold the Barrett brand of potato chips in an assigned territory in Nashville, TN during the 1930’s. He was a natural sales talent, developed and quickly grew his territory and soon hired route salesmen to work for him. The owners of Barrett noticed his success and offered to sell Herman Lay the whole business. He struggled to cobble together financing. This was at the height of the depression. Somehow, a combination of loans, savings and preferred stock was assembled and the $600,000 selling price was secured.

The new Company immediately changed the name to the H. W. Lay, Company. Mr. Lay recognized that mechanization was necessary to expand his distribution and lower costs. He invested every dollar of profit in self-contained potato processing machinery that took a whole potato and produced a finished chip. The crisps were then packaged in the new non-permeable bags that insured freshness for the product as they were shipped and sat on store shelves until purchased and consumed.

The onset of World War II proved most profitable for the salted snack industry. Chocolate and sugar were heavily rationed during the war and products that utilized these ingredients became rare and expensive until the war was complete. Salt, however, was never rationed and the availability of salty snacks made them the preferred choice of consumers seeking a quick treat during the war. In addition, these salty snacks were consumed in huge quantities by the troops.

Lays Potato Chips and snacks became ubiquitous on store shelves in the American south during and after the war. The Company bought up small, under-capitalized competitors and expanded aggressively. Eventually the H. W. Lay Company purchased the Frito Company of San Antonio, Texas. Frito had perfected the production of a corn chip which we eat in huge quantities to this day. The combined Frito Lay Company became the strongest national salted snack producer.

Frito Lay and a number of regional brands dominated the salted snack category through the post-war years. The simple potato chip was basically unchanged in appearance, flavor and consistency, except for adding new tastes such as garlic, green onion and bar-b-cue. The industry seemed to have settled into a maturing, slow growth category, with limited entrepreneurial opportunities for new offerings.

However, the most entrepreneurial consumer product Company in the world, Cincinnati’s Procter & Gamble (P&G), is always seeking to cultivate and grow new product niches. They had their corporate eye on the snack industry and, in particular, the P&G management felt they had identified a chink in the armor of the potato chip producers.

That chink was in packaging. Potato chips had been sold since the late 1930’s in flexible, pliable bags. While this insured freshness, it made breakage an issue. Consumers taking part in focus groups had told P&G that they did not like the small, cracked, broken pieces of chips that settled in the bottom of the bags. Research and Development at P&G began to work on an answer to the problem.

P&G is famous for its creation of Brand Management. Brand Management enables the responsible team assigned to each specific product to treat the brand as a stand- alone business and profit center for the Company. The success of this management style is legendary and has been studied in Business Schools and adopted by many other businesses. The Brand Management system encourages each team to pursue aggressively new product adaptations and inventiveness.

P&G Research and Development for the Company’s food group worked on the potato chip project throughout the 1960’s. Their answer to the problem created a wonderful example of how an entrepreneurial firm, or individual, can profit immensely from a convergent product innovation. The innovation that became a billion dollar brand, and revolutionized snack food marketing, was the introduction of Pringles.

P&G obviously did not invent potato chips or salty snack foods. However, by adapting the classic potato chip in form, taste and presentation they created a novel, blockbuster brand that is sold to millions of consumer around the world every day.

Pringles are 42% potato. They are formed by mixing potato flakes with liquid slurry and then dried to form each chip into an almost perfectly identical curved oval crisp. The genius of Pringle’s lies in the cylindrical cardboard tube invented for P&G by Fredric Baur. The Pringle crisps are stacked inside the tube so there is virtually no breakage of the individual chips. The tube closure is a snap on plastic lid.

Pringles was test marketed in 1968 and consumers were enthusiastic. The product has been constantly improved and over 40 flavors have been added to the original style. Many of these flavors are sold in specific countries or regions to suit prevailing taste preferences, such as jalapeno in Mexico and Cajun in Louisiana.

Entrepreneurs are driven to seek and create “divergent products”. The invention of disruptive “divergent products” such as the light bulb, the cotton gin or the internal combustion engine is the “Holy Grail” that these visionaries seek to perfect and leverage to fame and fortune. However, the most often realized and realistic road to success is to create a niche product improvement. Explore existing products and technologies and identify needs that are not being addressed by these products. The creation of novel “convergent products” that simply add incremental benefits and small performance enhancements can result in huge profit.

Procter & Gamble has built the largest consumer product Company in the world and one of the most admired innovation factories by seeking both “divergent” and “convergent” opportunities. Pringles is an example of a huge “convergent product” innovative success. The history of P&G is rife with examples of new “convergent product” successes. The “divergent product” innovations are fewer and harder to discover and bring to market. This is a great Company that looks for opportunity anywhere it can find it.

Entrepreneurs should take note of this process. Frito Lay is today owned by PepsiCo. The evolution of this great brand owes much to the simple drive and vision of H. W. Lay. He took a simple product that suffered a poor distribution model and turned the opportunity into immense wealth. P&G took the breakage problem inherent in bagged potato chips and through innovation in recipe and packaging created a huge worldwide success with the introduction of Pringles.

P&G and H. W. Lay are examples of the elegance of simple ideas. Remember the old axiom: KISS = Keep it Simple Stupid! The best ideas are often the most obvious.

The 15th Century Florentine Genius We Borrow From To This Very Day

Monday, December 8th, 2008

by : Geoff Ficke

If you ask any seasoned world traveler to name the most beautiful place they have ever visited, they will most certainly include the Italian city of Florence at the very top of their list. Florence is one of the most desirable travel destinations in the world. The city, like most of Italy, is a veritable living museum of culture, art, architecture, cuisine and style. To wander the streets, bridges, churches and museums of this glowing city is one of life’s great treats.

Viewed from the Tuscan hills surrounding Florence, the ancient city hugs the banks of the River Arno, and the endless blanket of tiled rooftops of the old town seem to flow as one single undulating layer of colored matting. Conspicuously, the horizontal center of the city is stunningly pierced by the soaring dome of the Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore. The dome dominates the surrounding warren of streets densely packed with shops, churches, homes and public venues. It is one of the most famous visages in the world.

The construction of the dome was one of the great architectural, mathematical and engineering accomplishments of the Middle-Ages. The techniques perfected to achieve the perfect symmetry of the Basilica’s dome are the basis of modern construction engineering. We owe much to the design entrepreneur who gifted the Florentine’s and us, with the famous cupola.

Filippo Brunelleschi was initially a master goldsmith. How he developed the unique architectural skills he is most famous for is still a mystery. He was revered in the Florentine region for his metal works, sculpture and relief pieces. He had also built several mechanical clocks, one of which was said to include an alarm.

The nave and the sacristy of the Basilica Santa Maria di Fiore had been completed for years. However, the center of the edifice was vacant, essentially a doughnut hole. The plan was always to cover the space with a soaring dome. Massive construction was not unknown in the Middle-Ages. The ancient Romans had created the Forum, the Pantheon and the Coliseum among many examples of grand scale building. The knowledge and technical skills that the Romans had perfected 15 centuries earlier had somehow been lost as the Great Plague and the Dark Ages had descended upon the developed world.

Brunelleschi and his close friend, the great artist Donatello, had travelled to Rome and studied the many ancient ruins and buildings crafted when the Empire was at its zenith. Upon returning to Florence in 1418, he learned that there was a competition underway to reward the inventor of a novel mechanical hoist with a large cash prize. The hoist would be utilized to complete the dome of the Basilica by accelerating the lifting of great tonnage of building materials to heights of hundreds of feet.

Brunelleschi submitted a detailed drawing of his hoist machine. His work in building mechanical clocks had immersed him in the study of gears and bearings. The mechanical hoist that the inventor had designed was powered by two oxen. Ingeniously, Brunelleschi had invented a reversible gear so that the oxen could continue to walk in the same direction, and a simple levered gear could be engaged to lift or lower the hoist. This made it possible to reload the carry platform, and raise it, and lower it in about 10 minutes. He won the prize and the commission to build the hoist that would be instrumental in completing the dome of the Basilica.

The mystery of how to support the great weight of the dome, especially at such great height, was still to be solved. Brunelleschi’s ingenious solution required no centering construction, buttresses or support walls. He used a herringbone pattern of laying stone, thus dispersing pressure and diminishing the weight the lower levels of the building would have to support. In addition, rather than supporting the curvature of the dome with an internal skeleton and a hidden barrier wall, he created a girdle of rings to hold the construction with much less weight. The result is the soaring open cupola that from inside the Basilica seems to rise like a majestic gateway to the heavens.

In 1423 the eminences of Florence staged another contest to encourage the invention of a lateral mechanical hoist. This device was deemed essential to completing the work on the dome as once construction materials were lifted to the high work platforms they had to be offloaded and moved to specific work areas. Brunelleschi submitted the winning design for a device that was called the “castello”. This invention included an ingenious series of gears and rails and is considered the progenitor of the modern “tower crane” used in building skyscrapers today.

It is estimated that the Brunelleschi inventions handled the movement of 70 million pounds of construction materials in the 15th century creation of the dome of the Basilica Santa Maria di Fiore. The lost Roman tradition of building on the grandest of scales was rediscovered by this son of Florence. Modern business and construction projects have benefitted in other ways from the management skills perfected by Filippo Brunelleschi.

For instance, Brunelleschi was the first architect known to precisely draw to scale the detail of his project specifications. He was the uncrowned father of the blueprint. Before his utilization of precisely plotted plans construction was undertaken using lines of sight, plumbs and stakes.

Brunelleschi also was the first documented project manager known to write specific business plans detailing the assumptions he based his budgets upon. Today no serious manager would start or expand an enterprise without crafting a detailed plan for use as a roadmap.

Filippo Brunelleschi filed the first known patent for his mechanical hoist. He was intent on protecting his invention and fully intended to enjoy maximum commercial benefits from its deployment and use by others. This man was the model for the modern inventor.

Brunelleschi is credited with many other inventions. He created the artistic concept of linear perspective. His military fortifications and shipbuilding improvements were considered unique. The world he left behind at death in 1446 was a much more progressive, beautiful place because of the contributions of this self-made genius.

Entrepreneurs, inventors, business people and artists can learn much from the life and work of Filippo Brunelleschi. His curiosity led him to Rome and the study of lost, ancient construction techniques. The ability to apply advanced mathematical, engineering and architectural techniques to seemingly intractable construction problems has gifted the world with the crowning glory of Florence, the Dome of the Basilica Santa Maria di Fiore. Modern management tools such as the protection of intellectual property by filing for patent protection and writing customized business plans were pioneered by this great Florentine and are utilized to this day. The perfection of engineering plans by using plotting and blueprints enabled builders to project, budget and design more advanced intricate construction.

We tend to think that modern ideas are always the most advanced. Studying history often reveals that there is really not a lot that is truly new, just refined and improved at the margins. Grand building projects are undertaken in modern times. However, a visit to Florence and study of the great buildings of the Renaissance provide proof that great vision and craftsmanship of the past stand up well to anything modern man can construct, even allowing for the great leaps in technology we enjoy today. Men like Filippo Brunelleschi were the visionaries of their time and I believe that he would be on the cutting edge of creativity if alive and working today.

Products Often Enjoy Generational Rebirth

Monday, December 8th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Many products that have been successfully consumed for decades experience severe peaks and valleys during their life cycle. Sometimes we notice the rise and decline of products, most often, however, we simply are oblivious to this happenstance. These items seem to quietly go in and out of vogue based on consumer tastes and competitive market conditions. This usually does not happen by accident, but occurs as a result of planned marketing strategy crafted to continually reintroduce brands to new generations of consumers.

Consider the wonderful success Walt Disney created by appealing to successive generations of children. Mickey Mouse, initially incarnated as Steamboat Willie, has been enjoyed by children all over the world for 80 years. As each generation of children matures, typically after seven to nine years, the next group is always growing into a new class of tiny consumers of these cartoons.

In 1932 the Disney Company introduced the classic animated movie feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The movie was a rousing commercial and critically acclaimed success at that time. Disney, recognizing the always changing demographics of the youthful audience for the story, created a franchise for Snow White. This beloved film is reintroduced into theatre distribution every seven years. This insures that there is continually a new audience for this wonderful fairy tale. Snow White is the most profitable single entertainment vehicle of all time, owing to its constantly being represented to the next generation of children.

The Disney theme parks utilize much the same marketing strategy. Parents take their children to the amazing Disney theme parks to enjoy the lifelike cartoon characters, the theme rides and exhibits that their little ones have experienced through television, movies and licensed toys. Parents become grandparents and the cycle is repeated. The Disney Company is always introducing new attractions to keep the parks contemporary, exciting and push demand for the Disney experience to new generations of fans.

Fashion is another product category that seems to cyclically revert to past designer names and styles. Diane von Furstenberg was the American doyenne of fashion in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Ms. Von Furstenberg’s  signature “wrap dresses” were hugely popular and enabled her fashion house to license successful perfume, cosmetics, jewelry and lingerie lines. For a number of years her collections seemed to lose their luster. However, a new generation of fashion conscious young women has rediscovered the clingy “wrap dress” and the figure flattering fit these simply crafted garments provide the female figure.

Diane von Furstenberg is enjoying a huge commercial resurgence in the first decade of the 21st century. Another former high priest of the fashion world, “El Commandatore”, Emilio Pucci is also enjoying renewed popularity. The Italian designer, famous for his vividly colored patterned fabrics, was one of the fixtures of the haute couture scene in Milan in the 1960’s. After his death, the Pucci atelier lost much of its sheen. Sales plummeted and top boutiques and department stores dropped the line and replaced it with more contemporary designer product. Recently I was on a business trip in Italy and noticed women everywhere I went were wearing clothes that seemed to be designed by the long deceased Emilio Pucci himself. This piqued my curiosity. I did a bit of digging and discovered that the Pucci brand had been purchased, recapitalized and reinvigorated with new design talent. The signature Pucci color palette has been brought back to life in contemporary fabrics and designs and a new generation of fashion consumers are being drawn to the fresh offerings of Maestro Pucci’s creative vision.

The “hula hoop” was one of the most successful single products of the 1950’s. Many young people today have no knowledge of what a “hula hoop” is, what it does or why anyone would own one. And yet, when Elvis was the height of his popularity, almost every home had one or more “hula hoops”. As a great fad item, it disappeared almost as quickly as it had ascended.

While working a sporting goods industry trade show recently, I saw a booth that had “hula hoops” for sale. I stopped at the display and spoke to the sales manager. He advised that the product is now being successfully repositioned as an exercise/wellness device for weight control. Major sporting goods stores are stocking the product and it is being used by personal trainers as a simple, fun, beneficial tool to improve cardio-health.

The economy is currently in the doldrums. People are judiciously watching each dollar and seeking products that provide maximum benefit for minimum cost. Times like these always see a spike in sales of SPAM. This canned meat product, popularized, well, infamously mass consumed by United States soldiers during World War II, is again selling at record levels. SPAM lingers on store shelves during boom economic cycles. Comics have enjoyed delivering a full stable of SPAM jokes for 70 years. Nevertheless, when consumers need an economical, versatile food product to fill their bellies, SPAM always reappears to fill the void.

One of the great successes in the automotive world is the re-emergence the Mini. The Austin Mini was ubiquitous in the middle of the 20th century in England. Actors, athletes, even Prince Charles were proud to be seen driving their Austin Mini’s around London and Liverpool. However, times changed, the Mini did not evolve any further than its earliest, boxy styling and larger more powerful sports cars became popular with the glitterati. Austin Mini sales collapsed and production ceased.

BMW bought the Mini brand name and product rights in the 1990’s. The German manufacturer, famous for designing some of the most technologically advanced, highly styled and expensive road cars in the world began to meticulously reinvent the Mini. Brilliantly, the Company decided to essentially leave the styling cues of the Mini unchanged. The shape that was so endearing to consumers was sacrosanct. BMW re-engineered the power train and safety features to the highest contemporary standards. The new BMW Mini was reintroduced and has quickly become one of the most popular vehicles in the world.

VolksWagon has done something similar with the re-introduction of the classic Beetle. General Motors let the long running Malibu model die. This past year Chevy redesigned and repositioned the Malibu and it is one of GM’s few great sales successes. The Dodge Challenger has enjoyed similar popularity since being re-launched using some of the design features of the old model.

Successful marketers and entrepreneurs must work diligently to maximize product life cycles. Tide Detergent, Jif Peanut Butter, Folgers Coffee, and McDonalds are obvious examples of brands and products that enjoy immense mass popularity in good times and bad. Most products however, must be constantly re-invigorated and positioned based on market conditions.

Products are successful when marketing plans, sales strategies and branding are well coordinated and properly executed. Failure in any of these areas will result in declining sales and possibly death of the brand. Product illness, or even death, however, does not necessarily mean disappearing forever, as when a human dies. There can be a resurrection for such products and brands. The potential to re-launch or regenerate limp, sclerotic products can be achieved when the strategy, the management and the timing is in line and opportunistic.