Mobas Director Adam Tuckwell explores the dangers of brands overstepping their core audience in a desire to fit into popular culture.
As a long-time fan of Hunter wellies, I’m certainly not alone in my sense of loss as the iconic bootmaker slips into administration. I look at the downfall of a company that was a byword for rugged durability and outdoor chic with a keen professional interest and, more importantly, a warning for marketers and business-owners. For many of us, Hunter was more than just a brand. Their boots were a symbol of robust British quality, the seal of a certain ‘outdoor’ lifestyle, adorned as they were with a royal crest. The strength of their product offering had generated a level of brand loyalty that many businesses covet. However, this allegiance was not enough to save the company from closure. In analysing what went wrong, there’s a stark lesson: innovation can be damning when it strays too far from the core brand proposition and audience.
With its roots in the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh in 1856, Hunter had always been the go-to choice for Wellington boots, for those who can afford the hefty price tag, for their quality and durability. However, a major shift occurred in 2008 when production moved to China, and this decision arguably marked the beginning of the end for the brand. Their traditionally loyal customer base began to witness a decline in the product quality they’d always associated with the Hunter name, triggering a loss of faith in the brand. This was followed by another significant pivot: the expansion of the brand’s aesthetic reach, a move that some argue began to distance the brand from its core audience. While the introduction of new styles, patterns and collaborations, including a ‘one-of-a-kind boot with Elton John and Swarovski’, may have appealed to a new generation of consumers, it risked alienating the traditional audience who valued the brand for its functionality and classic design.
For marketers and business owners, Hunter’s decline provides a sobering lesson: the importance of respecting your core audience and maintaining the integrity of your product and brand. Innovation is key to any brand’s growth, but it needs to align with the brand’s core values and serve the needs of its primary audience. Hunter’s story serves as a reminder that while attracting new audiences is important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of alienating your loyal customer base.
Hunter’s relocation of production to Asia is a stark example of the dangers of compromising product quality to reduce costs. A move intended to increase profits ended up damaging the brand’s reputation. It’s a clear reminder that in today’s market, quality is not a compromise consumers are willing to accept.
As marketers and business owners, we must ensure that we remain aware of our brand’s core values and audience expectations in our quest to evolve and innovate. Any brand extension should feel like a natural evolution, not a forced shift that could potentially alienate your base.
What’s the lesson here? Hunter’s fall is a powerful reminder of the importance of maintaining product quality and staying true to your core audience when innovating. As marketers and business owners, we should not forget the value that comes from respecting and understanding our audience’s needs and expectations and ensuring that our innovations serve these without losing sight of our brand’s roots. A lesson learnt from the downfall of a beloved brand – may it inspire us to build stronger, more resilient businesses.