5 Ways to Maintain Brand Growth and Relevance: StarKist’s Revitalization Strategy

StarKist‘s marketing strategy is a rich example of maintaining brand relevance and accelerating profitable growth.    Despite having some significant brand challenges:  a mature category, a mature brand, dated brand equities, and pricing challenges, their strategy is spectacular and effective.

Here are the 5 brand revitalization best practices they’ve nailed:

1.   Maintain a clear, consistent, and relevant brand positioning  –  StarKist’s brand’s positioning is the best brand of high quality, nutritious tuna.   This has been a virtual constant for over 60 years.   Consistency is relatively easy, but maintaining relevance over time is more difficult and even treacherous, if you don’t do it.    They have brilliantly adapted, but not radically changed, the brand positioning to ‘the best brand of high quality satiating nutritious tuna.’     That transformative “tweak” moves pre-packaged tuna from dated and increasingly irrelevant, to a brand that is contemporary, appealing and compelling for today’s consumer.


2.   Understand and contemporize brand equities – Several of StarKist’s brand equities are timeless and have been effectively retained.    StarKist has effectively leveraged powerful elements like Charlie the Tuna, the tagline “Sorry Charlie,” logo and package design, quality and freshness.   But they have contemporized those assets to maintain their relevance to consumer with new packaging structures (portable bag), package sizes (single serve vs. family size), and contemporizing Charlie himself and his tagline.   You do that best if you…

3.   Develop and Maintain Brand and Category Expertise –  StarKist’s relevance is grounded in a deep understanding of their consumer, the benefits they want, and how they perceive and consume the category.    For example, they understand that their medium- and heavy-purchasers are nutritionally and calorie-conscious  women who want portable, satiating lunch, snack and dinner protein choices for themselves as well as their children, primarily using tuna in sandwiches and salads.

4.   Innovate based on Consumer Insights –   StarKist’s new products and innovation strategy is clearly grounded in what they know about consumers.    For example, the 100-calorie pouch reflects an understanding of consumers’ needs for portability, portion control, calorie-consciousness, and satiety, as do their other new products including lower-sodium, gourmet varieties, flavored versions, and lunch kits.

5.   Develop Compelling Marketing Communication – The new “Thanks Charlie” campaign revitalizes the classic “Sorry Charlie” brand messaging, with the more timely promise of ‘delicious, satiating (filling) nutrition.’   StarKist and their agency, MMB,  do an exceptional job of leveraging and adapting the classic Leo Burnett campaigns that began in the 1960s!    Not only did StarKist select an outstanding advertising partner, but they also took responsibility to share deep consumer insight and precise advertising objectives with the Agency.  The result is truly great advertising:  it has driven big increases in brand awareness and double-digit sales growth.   Great advertising only happens with a great creative agency and a great client that communicates and collaborates with them.

You can maintain and accelerate brand growth and relevance if you reject status quo and adapt using these five best practices.     Mature brands are not doomed for market share erosion or commodity status, IF you commit to strategically adapting your brand to maintain relevance and growth.


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