Martha Stewart’s Brush with Death: Plan for Resurrecting a Brand
“I’m a very healthy, useful, energetic person thriving on very little sleep,” the 71-year-old domestic diva told the Wall Street Journal, which commented she has little interest in discussing succession plans. “I’m not dying yet.”
But where is the empire going now that “The Martha Stewart Show,” the daily TV program, is no longer on the Hallmark Channel and the September issue of Martha Stewart Living, the magazine, according to Media Industry newsletter, has almost 40 percent fewer ad pages than last year?
Stewart, who became famous writing books on entertaining, has always been a dealmaker. She bought back the rights to her magazine, show and books in 1997. In 1999 she took her company public, becoming an overnight billionaire.
However, the IPO prospectus did note that the business would suffer if Stewart’s “public image or reputation were to be tarnished.” In literature, that’s called foreshadowing. Magazine advertisers fled and her syndicated TV show was canceled when a Stewart stock sale led to an obstruction-of-justice conviction and a prison sentence.
Make Deals to Evolve the Brand
Evolving a brand is different than growing a brand. To evolve a brand you need to find new affiliations to update the brand message. Here are three ways.
1. Find New Partners. Making deals to breathe life into the brand is essential. During her fall and comeback the company’s main focus was making merchandising deals. There were Martha Stewart accessories for PetSmart, and retail partnerships that included Home Depot, Macy’s, Michaels Stores, and J.C. Penney, which recently bought 17 percent of Stewart’s company. Stewart says “We are forging ahead with new partnerships and new products, and we expect to be able to gain the international foothold that has been so elusive in the last few years.” She gets good marks for this.
2. Find New Platforms. Another important task is to get the new brand message to new audiences in new ways. For example, Stewart is now exploring reality-TV deals and developing short how-to content for the Web and mobile devices. The deal-making plan includes, according to the Wall Street Journal, “increasing licensing abroad, revamping advertising sales at the magazines and trying to gain more revenue from such ad-rich areas as fashion and beauty by beefing up content on those topics.” She also scores high on this point.
3. Find Ways to Diversify. Having only one voice of the brand does not cut it anymore. Stewart has diversified herself as a brand into the various areas of the home. However, the market idea she pioneered, being the homemaker diva, has taken the next natural market evolution: the areas of the home have splintered into market segments.
Now cooking is about styles of cuisine for various demographics: young, adventurous, quick, easy, ethnic and those who love cupcakes. Decorating has shifted to demographic groups, and gardening has as well. The idea of being all things to all people does not work any more and Stewart is missing it.
Her empire would be better served to follow the Oprah model and spin off a variety of market-specific interpretations of her homemaker, each with the look and feel of the host. Oprah has done it with Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz. Personality driven shows are clearly important and Stewart’s missing that hers does not have enough appeal. Stewart only gets half credit for this, but she can figure it out. Martha is one smart and tough cookie.