The Power of BrandEarlier this week we started a three-part series on brands facing identity crises and what banks and credit unions can learn from them. So far we’ve looked at JCPenney and RadioShack. Our last installment in the series examines at Barnes & Noble.

Specific brand amnesia: Forgetting about the competition

Patient: Barnes & Noble
I have to add a bit of a disclaimer here: I'm a book nerd. Always have been, always will be. I love to visit bookstores, perusing shelves and stacks looking for literary treasure. This includes frequent trips to Barnes & Noble.

That being said, however, I'm also a big fan of Amazon. I love the ability to log on and (when looking for a book) browse, read reviews, check out the cover, and have it sent via free two-day shipping (yeah, Amazon Prime!). And that's just not something I can do at a Barnes & Noble.

More often than not, just due to space considerations, even the largest bookstore cannot stock every single book that every single consumer could possibly want. That's where the nationwide network of Amazon.com warehouses comes into play. By granting consumers access to virtually any book with a relatively quick shipping option, they gave Barnes & Noble a serious kick in the tail.

In addition to hardcopy books, Barnes & Noble fell way behind the curve when it comes to the digital e-reader revolution. The extremely successful Amazon Kindle has essentially driven the Barnes & Noble Nook into an early grave. The Nook, Barnes & Noble's expedition into e-readers, simply never cracked the market like the Kindle (in fact, Barnes & Noble hopes to revive its e-reader hopes through a partnership with Samsung and its Galaxy Tab 4).

Barnes & Noble apparently let its eyes drop from the competition long enough to completely miss the advent of rapid-fire online orders and digital reading devices. Playing catch-up is difficult enough in a baseball or football game — in the business world, it's nearly impossible. Yes, you can order books online from Barnes & Noble, and yes, it does have its own version of e-reader. The problem is, they came a long time after other options and devices from the competition established a firm foothold in the consumer marketplace.

If you walk into many Barnes & Noble locations now, you'll probably notice that board games, toys, and home decor items take up more and more of the available retail space. This is probably indicative of a slow scramble on the part of Barnes & Noble executives trying to bolster falling hardcopy and digital book sales with other items. This flies in the face of successful branding tenets. When most people think of toys, do they think about Barnes & Noble? No. They think of other, more firmly established toy outlets, like Toys "R" Us. Barnes & Noble, attempting to dilute its core offering with the bevy of other products, is now confusing already pressured consumers in a hyper-competitive marketplace.

Prescription: Brand ahead of the competition. You also cannot allow your company (including your bank or credit union) and its brand to fall behind the times. Practicing due diligence is critical. Call it mystery shopping, call it marketplace research, call it whatever you will — failing to keep up with changing times is a recipe for business disaster. The brand you worked so hard to build-up, that once meant something, can quickly erode under the relentless waters of change like so many sandcastles. Barnes & Noble should have paid more attention to the rise of Amazon.com and other providers of fast online ordering and digital e-readers.

There you have it — three modern companies facing divergent yet significant branding crises. The lessons bank and credit union marketers and brand strategists can learn from these companies are critical. And while none of them are officially dead in the water yet, the future looks fairly bleak for these three. While it is entirely possible one, two, or all of them could find a way to rebrand themselves into relevancy, it is also possible any number (or all) of them are destined for the history books.

Whether it is mixed marketing messages, multiple business personalities, or forgetting about the competition, brand amnesia is a frightening prospect. Taking steps now to address these potential problems within your bank or credit union brand can save significant headache, heartache, and potential extinction in the future.

Thanks for joining us for this three-part series on brands facing an identity crisis. What are some other companies facing similar crises you can think of?

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