CNN, one of the world’s leading news organizations, recently tried something new. And they failed in spectacular fashion. Their experience holds some lessons for building product brands.

CNN+ was launched at the beginning of April to great fanfare. The cable news giant spent some three hundred million on marketing, and hired big-name personalities to host shows on the new streaming service.

Only three weeks later, the announcement came that CNN was pulling the plug on CNN+. It seemed almost nobody was interested in paying for the service.

The demise of CNN+ is similar to that of The Home Depot EXPO, about 13 years ago. EXPO, as you might remember, was the big box leader’s attempt at creating a more upscale shopping environment. A place where homeowners could go to work with a designer and pick out high-end finishes for their home.

The thinking was that upscale shoppers didn’t want to go to big stores that also sold tools and drywall and lawnmowers and lumber. But it didn’t work out, and The Home Depot closed the last of their EXPO stores in 2009.

What Caused the Demise?

The reasons for the failure of CNN+ are being debated now, spanning everything from the aging audience for cable news to the future viability of streaming itself. Usually, in these situations, the reasons are as numerous as they are complicated.

At this point, very few people are talking about why The Home Depot EXPO failed. 

But there’s one mistake that both companies made that we feel is instructive for those in the building products industry. Both lost sight of who they really were, and why their customers bought from them in the first place.

CNN has a heritage of being a media property that focuses on reporting the news. Some might argue they’ve lost sight of that mission. But the fact remains that CNN is a news outlet at its core.

They are not a content creator. Where people turn for entertainment, cooking shows, travel ideas and book clubs. Those kinds of programs — which were featured on CNN+ — are antithetical to the CNN brand.

Likewise, The Home Depot was never seen as a purveyor of design and luxury. They built their brand on a no-nonsense shopping experience… where you could go to get literally anything you need for your home. A “one and done” approach.

Regardless of the economic reasons behind the design centers’ shuttering, it was always going to be an uphill battle for The Home Depot to extricate EXPO from the warehouse image… that the retailer had long cultivated.

Change is Healthy. Sometimes.

Both CNN and The Home Depot were doing what they thought they needed to do to adapt to changing times. This is a healthy way of thinking.

Times change. And brands that don’t change with them, are flirting with irrelevance.

But any attempt to adapt to change should be undertaken with extreme caution.

Don’t lose sight of how your customers view you (quite literally, in CNN’s case), and the value they see in your brand and your offering.

If a new venture represents a significant departure from your brand’s DNA… the incongruity between the two entities, may be too jarring for your customers.

In short, audiences just might not be comfortable with the paradigm shift — or buy that you can do what you say — because they already know you too well for your existing brand promise.