Brands must be prepared to adapt to customers’ changing appetites, says Steve Dunne, chief executive of Digital Drums

From the reaction across the industry last month, I was not alone in experiencing a twinge of sadness at the news that Thomas Cook was to wind up the Club 18-30 brand at the end of last month.

The days following the revelation saw a mass break-out of nostalgia across the trade, as people affectionately recalled their experiences of the brand, be it as an employee or customer.

And there is no doubt that, in its heyday, Club 18-30 was a game changer, an iconic travel brand and a hugely successful operator. The question to be asked, of course, is why could Thomas Cook not find a buyer for such a household name?

Oldest rule in marketing

The demise of Club 18-30’s fortunes is down to the brand not abiding by one of the oldest rules in marketing. And its demise is a lesson, and a warning, for every travel business today – be it tour operator or agent.

As a young marketing student, I remember a lecturer discussing with our class a quote by Charles Darwin, the English naturalist: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change that survives and thrives.”

And that was Club 18-30’s problem. It didn’t adapt to changing times. It is a creature of a different era – and that era is long gone.

Marketing history is littered with brands that were, at one time, behemoths, straddling their sectors, almost unassailable in their market positions, but today are, at best, a shadow of what they were and, at worst, no longer around: Blockbuster, Polaroid, Kodak, BlackBerry, Nokia, Myspace. The list is endless but the reason for their demise consistent: they did not adapt to the changing environment.

Changing target audience

The target audience of Club 18-30 has changed behaviour dramatically since the high point of the brand in the 1990s.

A recent report by the Office for National Statistics shows that more than a quarter of today’s 16 to 24-year-olds do not drink, compared with just over a fifth of the broader adult population.

Another report to cross my desk, from Mintel, claims nightclub attendance in the UK has dropped by 21% in five years.

No brand is immune from a constantly changing market. Google and Facebook, the giants of the digital age, it could be argued, are no longer the innovators they were a decade ago. Indeed, today they are more like Ford and General Motors, buying innovation rather than driving it.

The story of Club 18-30 is one worth noting for every travel brand. Your customers’ motivations, needs and interests change over time. The customer is in a constant state of evolution and any travel brand that doesn’t keep its finger on the pulse of the market and doesn’t continually innovate and move with the market is destined to be left behind.

As a brand, or a business, you may be all-conquering today, but keep a weather eye on the customer and be prepared to adapt.

As the adage goes: “The only constant in life is change.” And the smart brands know that.

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