Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Learning From Hostess

Now that Hostess has been relegated to become another bit of nostalgia for American consumers, it’s time to see what business lessons we can take from its shortcomings.

In mid-November of this year, a brand with a distinguished reputation as a staple of American life announced its intentions to liquidate the company after filing for bankruptcy not quite a year earlier. This company is Hostess, the maker of products that have become more than dessert treats — they have become fond memories of Americans for nearly 80 years. Although the company’s many products, including Wonder Bread and Twinkies, have been taken-for-granted regulars on the shelves of grocery stores all across the country, that alone was not enough to keep the company going. Now that Hostess has been relegated to become another bit of nostalgia for American consumers, it’s time to see what business lessons we can take from its shortcomings. Huffington Post’s Joseph F. Coughlin investigated just that in his article, “Hostess Twinkies and Three Lessons About Brand and Innovation.”

Prove Yourself Every Day

As we noted, Hostess carved out its place in American history. When news broke that the company was officially going under following a strike that lead to letting go of over 18,000 employees, consumers everywhere took action. In the next days, grocery store shelves that once held Hostess’ large menu of products were completely empty. On the one hand, no business would be jealous of the untimely end of Hostess. On the other hand, other brands would kill for that kind of customer loyalty and emotional attachment toward a product. However, customers were only moved to buy out store stocks of Hostess once it was too late for the company. Hostess had an opportunity to leverage their long history, but they needed to take it and evolve into the present day. Instead, they rested on their laurels and suffered the consequences. Whether your clients have long-standing presences in the community or they are fresh start-ups, the writing is on the wall: prove yourself to your customers every day.

Don’t Be Afraid to Adapt

Not only did Hostess rest on its 80-year-old image, it also did not evolve its products to meet the concerns and needs of the modern 2012 consumer. Although Hostess was a pop culture icon that entered the scripts of movies and television, customers were clearly not buying enough to prevent what happened to the company this past November. In fact, after the news that the company was liquidating, mock news hosts, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, reminded viewers that while they mourn the demise of the brand, Hostess’ products are incredibly unhealthy with high calories and overly processed ingredients. Although Hostess treats were once a common facet of American school children’s lunches, today — a time of healthy cafeteria options and nutrition education and consciousness — it would be greatly frowned upon. Therefore, while Hostess should have leveraged its history as a trusted brand, its products should have adapted to the changing times, as should your own clients and the newspaper itself. Newspapers are a great example of this, they still maintain a high amount of trust from their communities, but that doesn’t mean customers will keep buying it unless it adapts to the way they want to receive news, information and ads now.

Innovation Is Key

Yes, Hostess should have adapted its product offerings to meet the needs of the modern consumer. It’s understandable, however, why they avoided taking such a leap, as it would have required courage and innovation. Companies that are thriving in the modern marketplace are constantly innovating, offering new versions or all together new products. What’s more, consumers line up to buy the newest thing. Customers expect their favorite brands to offer new products that are continually meeting their lifestyles. As previously mentioned, Hostess could have evolved to include more healthy-minded products and marketing. Of course, if you have any basic knowledge of Twinkies and Ding Dongs, that may seem like a difficult thing to accomplish. While they certainly would not have been the first, they could have also created new and improved versions of their existing products and kick up the marketing behind those changes. This could have reminded customers of their fondness and nostalgia for Hostess and entice them to buy the new products before it was too late for the company. Take this valuable lesson to your clients and your department and encourage them be innovative, offering new ideas to keep their products relevant to the modern consumer.