Shift Blog Series: What Employer Brand Can Learn from Consumer Brand Comebacks

In the next installment in our Shift series, we will take a look at lessons we can learn from two well-known consumer brands. These brands have vastly different products, demographics, price points, and distribution channels, but they do share a few key branding elements. Both of the brands we will be discussing in this blog post understand the importance of remaining true to their identity, having a strong connection to their roots, and relying on authenticity. Read on to learn how these long-standing brands have shifted to stay relevant with consumers’ evolving preferences, and how you can apply a similar approach to your employer brand strategy.

Pabst Blue Ribbon

Until recently, Milwaukee-based lager Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) sales peaked in the 1970s, and then fizzled out in the following two decades. PBR was pushed aside by big brands with big budgets. That was until it made a surprising comeback in the 2000s.

So what was the catalyst to Pabst’s resurgence? One of Pabst’s marketing managers heard a rumor that the brand had a passionate following with Pacific Northwest hipsters, defined by Google as “a person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream”. This marketing manager wanted to see for himself and headed to Portland. He visited the city’s “hipster hot spots” and chatted with trendsetters drinking the beer. He quickly learned they hated marketing. The brand’s lack of marketing was appealing to this particular group of people. With this group of loyalists, the brand had an iconoclastic vibe on an organic level.

The secret to a successful rebirth? It was simple. The branding team observed the ways in which their product was used, and reacted quickly to keep the momentum going. Rather than jumping to a total rebranding strategy, they chose to enhance the existing brand and maintain the same authenticity that attracted hipsters to it from the get-go. By observing consumer behavior, adopting and complimenting what was already happening in the market, PBR achieved a huge resurgence with hipsters, and eventually, its popularity spread to other audiences. The Pabst brand team embraced consumer’s lifestyle behaviors and embedded the brand in ways that were authentic, like quietly participating in a bike-messenger rodeo. Being genuine, real, and relatable helped PBR more than double sales over the course of a decade (Euromonitor, 2014).

Employer brand takeaways

Lesson #1: Pay attention to how a brand is used or what the brand experience is. Seek to understand why your employees joined your organization in the first place and what keeps them there. (<-- Click here to tweet this!) Focus on the attributes that make your organization unique, attractive, and rewarding, rather than trying to copy Google or Apple.

Lesson #2: Focus on the importance of timeliness and responsiveness in branding strategies. Timing and the ability to react quickly were key for PBR’s marketing team to capitalize on the brand’s position. When it comes to employer brand, there are countless ways to keep a pulse on your employees and target candidate audiences. (<-- Click here to tweet this!) Through engagement surveys, declination surveys, watching industry trends, and staying abreast of what is happening with your talent competitors on a local and global scale, you will be better positioned to respond to shifts and demands.


Founded in 1933, Lacoste is a French fashion brand known for its preppy crocodile-logoed polo shirts and sportswear. According to a CNN Money article, tennis star Rene Lacoste is believed to have invented preppy sportswear when he marketed the first-ever polo shirt over 80 years ago.

In the 1980s, the Lacoste brand license in the U.S. was sold to another entity, and quickly, the brand became mainstream and watered down. Under its new management, Lacoste polos were sold in discount stores. The Lacoste logo was often paired with that of another clothing brand, Izod, causing confusion with consumers. Product quality and prices were low, and a combination of cost-cutting and the inability to meet demand nearly destroyed the brand.

The brand’s parent company, Devanlay, saw the identity crisis Lacoste was facing and bought the brand back. They exited the U.S. marketplace for a few years in order to develop a rebranding strategy.

How did Lacoste make its comeback? Devanlay hired an expert to elevate Lacoste’s rich heritage and rebuild the brand so it would resonate with a new generation of consumers. The strategy team uncovered the cause of the brand’s downfall: it was trying to be everything to everyone. A lack of clear direction and overexposure attributed to Lacoste’s decline. By executing a laser-focused 4 P strategy (product, promotion, pricing and people), Lacoste U.S. rebuilt its luxury status, and sales eventually rose by 70% in 2005.

Employer brand takeaways

Lesson #3: Avoid trying to cater to everyone. This can feel counterintuitive, but just as Lacoste learned, there’s a risk to overexposure and brand dilution. It’s a mindset shift (pun intended) to accept that you are not going to be the right employer for everyone. (<-- Click here to tweet this!) It’s important to know who you are as an employer, and who you aren’t. By identifying what you offer – or do not offer - your employees in benefits, perks, policies, flexibility, travel opportunities, work environment, and culture, just to name a few, you can uncover what areas to focus on in your employer brand strategy, and which ones merit less attention.

Lesson #4: Keep a targeted approach. In times of fierce competition for talent, there may be a desire to generate tons of leads by casting wide nets with recruiting efforts or implementing a generic talent marketing approach. We know there may be a time and place for mass-market strategies, but when there is a specific talent audience in mind, target your efforts. This could mean exiting the areas that aren’t yielding the results you’re after or piloting new areas where your audience is gathering.

If your employer brand is going through a shift or you are considering a rebrand, see what lessons you can learn from your consumer brand or other consumer brands like the two shared in this blog post. The biggest lesson is to remain true to your brand identity and the authentic experience of your employees. Because if you are authentic, you have no competition.

Check back next month for the next part of the Shift blog series with employer brand lessons from corporate brand evolutions and rebranding efforts!

If you missed the first post in the series, click here to learn Lessons From #RoseAllDay in Shifting Your Employer Brand Perception.

Other sources: MarketWatch, AdAge

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