March 18, 2014

'Dancing with the Stars' Premiere Pulls Lowest Ratings to Date; What's the Marketing Takeaway?

When “Dancing with the Stars” premiered last night on ABC for its 18th season, avid fans and loyal brand proponents were ready for a shakeup and a whole lot of shimmying. After all, following several seasons of C-list celebrities—Zendaya from season 16, anyone?—subpar dancing and a too-long-results-show on Tuesday nights, it was time for a major twist.

And the producers of ABC delivered that shakeup (or at least they tried). Not only did the show boast a brand new co-host in Erin Andrews, who replaced Brooke Burke-Charvet after eight seasons, but it also said goodbye to long-time music director Harold Wheeler and introduced the new caveat that partners will be switched throughout the season without notice. However, it appears the change in routine came a bit too late.

Monday night’s premiere drew its lowest rating ever for a “Dancing with the Stars” premiere with 15 million total viewers and a 2.5 rating, down from its previous premiere of 16 million and the premiere before that at 17 million. Despite its sequined costumes, excessive spray tans and cha-cha-cha-ing, the DWTS opener failed to deliver that extra pizzazz, begging the simple question of: At what point is it too late to complete a branding overhaul?

As marketers, we know that there are signs that our brand is in trouble. Sometimes the indicators are little—such as the fact that a subpage of our website has experienced a dip in traffic. And sometimes they are more glaring, like when a quick search of your company name on Social Mention reveals slanderous chatter about your brand across the social feeds. But there are almost always warning signs that a branding refocus, or in some cases a complete overhaul, is necessary.

The problem in the case of “Dancing with the Stars” was that while the show was aware that its old song and dance was no longer cutting it, it continued to stay with that choreography. One could argue that it was not until a few seasons of substantially poor ratings that the producers finally spearheaded a new strategy—one that has already proved too little too late this week.

In marketing, a day of missed opportunity is a day handed to the competitor that you can never get back. Simply put, marketers need to be able to identify campaigns gone wrong, anticipate road bumps that can derail efforts and willingly course correct on the fly. Understanding that there is a fundamental branding or messaging problem is the first step; however, taking action to redefine your brand is the more important step.

Afraid your brand is starting to develop a case of two left feet? To get the rhythm back, consider the following:

  • Identify both the high and low point of your brand’s history: Revisiting the high point will give you an indication of what it took at the time to reach your full potential. Doing so may show you that you need to ignite the fire that gave consumers a reason to engage with your brand in the first place. All of this can start by introducing a new capability to an existing product or announcing a market expansion.
  • Don’t ignore the metrics: Metrics are the windowpane into how your marketing efforts are stacking up. For example, poor performance from your blogging platform may be an indication that you need better, more impactful custom content. On the other hand, significantly low white paper download numbers may be a sign that your subject matter was not compelling enough. Take a look at the numbers—both good and bad—to get a better sense of where you need to spend your marketing dollars.
  • Appeal to the experts: Most major branding overhauls require the help of professionals. Whether it’s contracting a major design company to redo your logos and color palettes or enlisting the help of a content strategy vendor to rethink your entire content marketing strategy, don’t be afraid to get the best of the best involved. 

A simple adjustment of your brand strategy does not have to be as major as the “Dancing with the Stars” restructuring—if you start early enough. Simply changing costumes and adjusting the lighting can be enough to get your brand jiving to a new beat. But a failure to embrace change immediately (when change is imperative) can cost you the dance, and the competitive edge. 


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