Strong brands never die. But they don’t always age gracefully.

Recently, it felt as if a month couldn’t go by without another retail brand falling into crisis. In March this year, the fashion retailer Ted Baker became the latest high-street casualty, when the brand’s UK operator No Ordinary Designer Label called in the administrators.

This was in the wake of several high-profile retail brands declaring their financial woes and going into special measures in 2024. Brands including Muji, MatchesFashion and most notably The Body Shop, whose owner called in administrators just weeks after it bought the chain.

Behaviour trumps attitude

Hearing about the likes of Ted Baker and The Body Shop leaving our high streets forever isn’t without a fleeting pang of personal sadness. Both brands have served me well over the years. I’ve enjoyed shopping with them and consider them good quality. 

Being a teenager of the 90s, I get nostalgic thinking about The Body Shop in particular. I fondly remember trips with my friends trying on the heady scents of Fuzzy Peach, White Musk and Dewberry.

But of course, this is rose-tinted nostalgia. It’s like when a news reporter interviews a hapless passer-by about their feelings towards the closure of the likes of Wilko, BHS, or Woolworths, and they spout chapter-and-verse about how much they loved shopping there.

I feel like screaming at the TV each time: “Yes, but you probably didn’t shop there anymore, did you?”.  And that’s the crux of it. People may like you as a brand, but if they don’t choose you or purchase from you, the rest doesn’t matter. Behaviour trumps attitude—always.    

Is reinvention a brand lifeline?

It was with a semblance of hopefulness that I heard The Frasers Group and Next had both stated interest in buying Ted Baker. A potential brand lifeline. Clearly, the brand has a strong enough equity that there’s an opportunity to turn the business around and keep the brand going.

And if Ted Baker continues, it certainly won’t be the only brand that has survived a near-death experience. Take the following examples:



BHS had particular equity in its lighting offering, Wilko for its reputation in household laundry products and paint, and Mothercare for its trusted heritage in understanding mums and babies. All three brands still hold strong spend-pulling power and continue to exist, albeit through a reinvention in how and where they’re sold.

A brand is only as bad as its management 

It wasn’t that these brands failed, it was the companies behind them and their mismanagement that had led to their near demise. Even Debenhams is still trading online thanks to Boohoo buying the website and name of the department store group in 2021 following Debenhams entering into liquidation.

Which brings me to a central key point. Yes, some brands indeed die and some are even actively killed, but brands don’t have to die—ever. Categories can die, as can the brand managers who run them. In some instances, it’s a quick death, in other cases it’s a slow demise.

However, brands don’t have a lifecycle in the way that products and categories do. They can endure generations, centuries even. Take Pears soap for example, it’s been around since 1807 and is still going strong today.

Brands can even jump categories if the category they’re in is in decline. Having failed to adapt to the smartphone revolution, Nokia shifted its focus to network infrastructure and patent licensing, and continues to make whopping amounts of money.

Long-term brand building > short-term sales activation 

Because of this, strong brands are managed and built for the long term. The key to longevity lies in sustained marketing investment and the ability to evolve in the face of changing market conditions.

I like to think about the various life stages of Madonna or Beyonce as an analogy. Over the years, they’ve each reinvented themselves to keep pace with modern culture and ensure they’re one step ahead of the cultural curve.

Beyonce becoming a country artist is certainly a financially shrewd and perhaps unexpected twist. But even Beyonce’s version of country music is distinctively Beyonce—as she said herself: “I didn’t make a country album, I made a Beyonce album”.

Smart marketers recognise they’re mere temporary custodians of the brands they manage. They grasp the importance of brand building which has a longer-term payoff than short-term sales activation.

Brands should channel their inner Beyonce

Enduring brands keep one eye on the future. They keep pace with the shifting sands of culture and societal values, ensuring they evolve and remain culturally relevant.

When a brand has been mismanaged, the saving grace is that there’s enough equity in the brand to make it attractive to new owners. Even brands that are potential candidates for being killed off can go onto a brighter future with the right love, attention and reinvention.

Baileys is perhaps the mother of all reinventions. Going from an old-fashioned, once-a-year Christmas beverage, to a timeless treat enjoyed by a younger, more diverse audience.

To find out more about brand building that withstands the test of time, get in touch with Trinity McQueen.