You’ve experienced a brand earthquake. A recession hit. Your once-successful retail company was forced to declare bankruptcy. Everything around you has crumbled, your credit has been destroyed and all that was once working for you and familiar to you is now gone, including most of your customers.

But suddenly, after a year of reorganization, legal battles and a production freeze, you have new investors. And you’re in charge of leading the brand turnaround—introducing the new face to a 30-year-old store brand.

For a shaken brand that has lost its core buyers, the goal is to find the new and former buyers who will forgive and forget past missteps and love the brand like it was loved once before.

To bring your brand back to its glory days, you’ll need to create new brand momentum, excitement and desire. All while resources are still tight and you have the giant task of changing tarnished perceptions about the old brand.

In my recent book, Brand Turnaround, I take readers through the journeys of more than 75 brands, exploring how they managed to bounce back from blunders and turn themselves around. Along the way, I identify what I call Game Changers—seven key concepts to brand transformation. Staying relevant is one of these Game Changers.

Staying relevant means to:

  • Solve complex problems with simple answers.
  • Keep eyes and ears on the market, watch trends, converse and listen.
  • Walk in the shoes of stakeholders, whether customers, employees, investors, vendors or even critics.
  • Understand the buyers’ value system.
  • Identify strong segments of the top buyers’ base.
  • Don’t want to or attempt to please everyone.
  • Be fluid and flexible.
  • Be able to detach to the past if it’s not working today.

Especially, when a brand is emerging from a dark space, it’s temping to want everyone to love you. No retailer or any business wants to miss a sale, but that’s the kiss of death in brand turnaround. If you try to be everything to everyone, you will end up being nothing to a lot of people.

As a brand leader you must focus on the most meaningful aspects of your brand—the ones that make buyers loyal, make them love the brand and want to tell their friends about it.

The very essence of brand relevance is

  • The magnet that attracts new buyers and attention.
  • The connection to common values and concerns.
  • A relationship to exchange shared interests.
  • A two-way dialogue that demonstrates that you care (you can do this by educating buyers, treating them well and never forgetting them).
  • The application of your brand to their world and its needs.
  • A clear message that convincingly tells buyers what’s “in it for them.”

Follow these steps, and you’re on your way to being a relevant, turnaround brand of choice.

1) Gain insight.
Identify and understand who your top customers are
This may require conducting research. In the long run, it will be a worthy investment. Your goal is to identify the customers who have the most influence with others like them, who will recommend you often, who will be repeat spenders and whose lifetime value to the business is the greatest.

You can’t please everyone. Go for your core buyers, those who matter most. I’m a strong believer that 80% of your best business comes from 20% of your market. Use segmented, strategic communications and relationship-building programs to get your core target buyers back on board with your brand.

Next you must understand what matters to these top customers and prospects, not what matters to you or your marketing department

To do this you must study buying trends, ask questions, identify common values that provide emotional satisfaction and also set up multiple dialogue channels for two-way conversations about your store, its products and the buying experience.

2) Innovate—with new solutions, recycled ideas, a mix of both.
Providing buyers with first and fresh answers to their needs and challenges not only positions you as a problem solver and savior, but it opens up many opportunities for brand exposure in the media, word of mouth and social networks.

3) Add extra value to your offerings.
Increasing the value you offer can be the difference in a buyer selecting you over one of competitors. Whether this is a tangible or intangible item, improving with more and relevant offerings count.

4) Deliver an amazing experience.
The customer experience is a three-point opportunity to be relevant. Consider the touch points before they buy, at the time of transaction and after the purchase. Include visuals whose look and feel go along with operational ones.

5) Listen and communicate.
Building brands is no longer a one-way monologue from the company. Today all brands, especially those in turnaround mode, must listen a lot and then communicate in ways that your buyers prefer. Two of the most powerful tools available to big and small companies are social media and live observations with customers. This means get social, participate in high-traffic social networks in a conversational way and pay close attention to what happens with customers and your team in the store and in other venues.

6) Stay flexible and current with economic and societal changes. This means embracing change.
Maybe you were a niche retailer at your peak. No one else offered merchandise with quite the same essence as you. But during your time out of production, other companies popped up and attempted to cash in on your niche market. You’re no longer as unique as you were before. What now?

Finding relevance doesn’t automatically guarantee sustaining relevance. At any moment, your brand could begin to lose it.

These things often happen:

  • Brands grow, and with that comes bigger marketing departments, more audiences to cater to and larger committees to appease. Suddenly brand relevance is so watered down that it’s not serving the brand base or producing the outcome that everyone wants.
  • Brand leaders can’t see the big picture because they are caught up in the details. They don’t recognize the problem because they are relying on old ways of researching and thinking.
  • Brand leaders are reluctant to push out into new categories that they create, can own and rule for fear of failure.

At the end of the day, ask yourself: is your brand relevant? Is it clear on what’s in it for the customer and does it bring a high level of emotional satisfaction?

This article is based on content from Karen Post’s latest book Brand Turnaround (McGraw-Hill 2011).