Archive for January, 2006
The January 23 Wall Street Journal (sub required) has an illuminating report of Ford Motor Company’s operations shakeup and marketing overhaul. Among the far-reaching Ford initiatives was a specially-tasked “brand team,” which was charged with “figuring out what consumers Ford could get and who they couldn’t.” As part of its tasking, the team watched “a video of Americana images like a Bruce Springsteen album cover, cotton fields, open roads in the heartland and the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team set to “Little Pink Houses,” by John Cougar Mellencamp.”
It’s hard to understand how this is a “brand team” in any productive sense. It looks more like a sales team dressed in an ad campaign.
The mission of a brand team is to create more customer value. At Ford, this would mean building better cars and packing more Ford experience into the art of driving. It’s never a good sign when a “brand team” is asked to focus on “images” instead of delivering value customers can use.
Brands are not artificial constructs broadcast from on-high. They’re deep collaborations, especially with customers.
Maybe Ford’s narrow approach was dictated by the very nature of Ford itself. Per the Journal: “Ford management culture remains very much the top down, militaristic institution created in the 1950s . . ..”
If that’s the case, Ford’s brand revival will be even more difficult.
David Berlind and Dan Farber of Between the Lines deliver a consistent stream of deep insights and analysis on technology innovation. Here’s a clip from David’s recent assessment of explosive innovation in mashups:
Finally, why might this ecosystem snowball the way none before it has (not to say that the ones before it haven’t been unbelievably successful)? Because, with mashups, fewer technical skills are needed to become a developer than ever. Not only that, the simplest ones can be done in 10 or 15 minutes. Before, you had to be a pretty decent code jockey with languages like C++ or Visual Basic to turn your creativity into innovation. With mashups, much the same way blogging systems put Web publishing into the hands of millions of ordinary non-technical people, the barrier to developing applications and turning creativity into innovation is so low that there’s a vacuum into which an entire new class of developers will be sucked. It’s already happening.
Mashups and brands both unlock value. It’s not clear yet how the two will dance, but dance they will. Brand mashups may not be far off.
Over there to the right, in the Pages section, I’ve added a New Brand Glossary for quick reference. Brands need a new glossary because many conventional brand definitions suck. They lack structure, rigor and vision, and they have to be thoroughly re-thought and re-shaped if our practice is to deliver higher levels of value.
In the Glossary you’ll find concise (re-)definitions of brand, brand innovation, brand vision, brand platform, brand loyalty, and other key terms, plus a growing number of new terms: legacy brands, pseudo brands, brand API’s, brand chain, and others.
If you think brands have a positive future, the Glossary is not a bad place to start. (And yes, I am channeling Joseph Schumpeter every chance I get.)
The SF Chronicle recently summarized Gap’s current marketing and merchandising makeover, which includes new fashion lines and new store designs. Gap has taken some recent financial hits, so the changes are a big step toward a hoped for turnaround. To me, it’s a test of how far the Gap brand can go as a value driver independent of Gap merchandising. (A&F shows one way this can be done.) I like Gap, and would like to see the brand step up and be more than just packaging the customer in a certain look.
Several years ago, when I first entered an Apple store, I thought: “Wow! This is just like Gap . . . only cooler.” For a while Steve Jobs was on Gap’s board, and Mickey Drexler of Gap was on Apple’s. Somehow in this intermingling, a healthy part of Gap’s retail mojo ran off to Apple, and hasn’t come back.
Douglas Rushkoff is an incisive social thinker whose blog should be bookmarked by everyone who works with brands. His latest book, Get Back in the Box, is about innovation, and includes a section on brands. There is an excerpt in the Dec. archive of his blog. You can find it here. (Scroll down a bit.)
- Brands will shift from silos of indoctrination to flat networks of community. Giant crashing sounds are heard.
- Brands realize that they are much more than a subset of advertising. Google’s conquest of the ad business sharpens this perception.
- Brands come to their senses and admit that they’re much more valuable as innovation tools than as stylized sales stimulants.
- Gravity wins. Brands move from top down to bottom-up.
- Brands embrace Joy’s Law with a twist: whatever your company, customers will have more and better brand ideas than you do. Companies tap into customer initiative and intelligence.
- Brand loyalty changes gears. It’s no longer “loyalty to the brand.” It’s now “loyalty through the brand,” to values mutually held by companies and customers. More crashing sounds.
- Brand platforms emerge as category killers, offering new customer value far beyond traditional product footprints.
- Brands discover their patron saint: Dionysus, master of the edge. Revelry ensues, accompanied by art, music, drink, drama, lust and assorted mayhem. Brand classes in grad schools are swamped.
- The term “branding” disappears, unless you work with (and smell of) cattle.
- The brand team rises to new prominence within the corporation, tossing aside their old role as communicators. They emerge as value innovators, helping companies deliver more/new/better value to customers.
Joel Spolsky is beginning a series on interface design in Joel on Software. This is an absolute must read for anyone concerned about eradicating the pain and suffering of feature-itis. Get the RSS so you don’t miss out.
Product “features” are interesting. We define a “feature” as a part of the product trying to become a part of the customer. When there are too many parts, all yelling at once, the result is feature shock, and product turn-off. The product essentially alienates itself from the user.
A great thing about Joel’s essay is that it will generate plenty of comments, enriching the discussion even more.