What Zombies Can Teach Us About a Strong Brand

The zombie craze is alive and well. From TV’s “The Walking Dead” to “The Santa Clarita Diet” to Disney’s “Zombies,” the undead are having a moment. And it’s not just the entertainment industry that’s getting in on the action. The business world is, too.In the last year or so, there’s been a resurgence in brands that have improbably risen from the dead. RadioShack—the 97-year-old electronics retailer that filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in 2017 and just won’t seem to go away— announced a partnership in July to stock its merchandise in over 100 franchised HobbyTown stores. With technology changing the way we live and work, businesses in the retail and electronics sectors have experienced spectacular ups and downs. Cellphone makers Nokia, Motorola and BlackBerry, once dominant players that ultimately fell victim to the iPhone, are banking on strong name-brand recognition to give them a second shot at life. Even Atari, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013 but stayed in business by licensing its distinct brand of nostalgia, is poised for a comeback with the release of Atari VCS .And though it’s technically not a comeback, I have to admit that I was surprised to learn about the remaining Blockbuster store in Bend, Ore., the lone holdout following the recent closing of two stores in Alaska. Like some of the other legacy brands, the Bend Blockbuster has become a magnet for tourists and onlookers reliving their past.But nostalgia isn’t just fun. It’s valuable—and highlights how important it is to build a brand rather than simply sell a product.

The Intrinsic Value of a Brand

Brands have real, tangible value. Consultancy firm Brand Finance this year ranked Amazon the most valuable brand in the world, with name-brand equity alone valued at $150 billion. Even if you’re not a global tech giant, recognizable brands have worth.In 2008, Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy protection and liquidated its 180 stores. Two years later, a private equity company purchased the name and revived the Sharper Image brand on a more modest scale—as an ecommerce site and catalog retailer, where the company originated. Other brands look nothing like their former selves but still turn a profit. Once the largest U.S. airline, Pan American World Airways filed for bankruptcy protection and ceased operations in 1991. Today, you can’t take off in a Pan Am plane, but you can ship freight on Pan Am Railways, watch the 2011 Pan Am television show or shop for Pan Am bags and accessories.Even with scars, name brands are valuable, creating an instant connection that would otherwise take newcomers years to generate.

Valuable Brands Can Overcome Mistakes

Building a strong viable brand means you can overcome mistakes a lot easier than your no-name competitors. Remember New Coke? Coca-Cola overcame that monumental misstep to become one of the best brands in the world. Customers have come to know and trust the brand. They’ve built up brand equity. If a lifelong friend screws up, you’ll forgive that person a lot more readily than you would a new acquaintance. The same is true for brands.If you want to insulate your business against errors, the smartest thing you can do is build your brand.Related: If the Fruitcake Can Do it, What is Your Brand Capable Of?

Not All Brand Fails are Equal

Brands fail for many reasons. Sometimes, the company’s products can’t keep up with the changing times or a business runs into uncontrollable headwinds like a recession. Other times, it’s not so much the brand that’s in trouble but the business strategy. Did the company take on too much debt? Expand too quickly? If you have a solid brand, there’s a good chance that a fresh approach can spur a turnaround.In the last few years, a handful of teen apparel retailers like Aeropostale, PacSun and Quicksilver have filed for bankruptcy protection, squeezed by the dual effects of declining mall culture and the rise of newer fast-casual entrants like H&M and Zara. But the retailers, which have built up a solid fan base over the years, have seemed to quickly rebound under new management, which has largely focused on smaller footprints and fresher thinking.A strong brand can’t always overcome every business challenge. But it can help…a lot. And there’s nothing scary about that.