Archive for the 'Brand Identity' Category
The best way to create an identity is to change the game, and to make your identity synonymous with the wonders of the new game at hand. Apple’s iPhone and iPad prove the wisdom of this approach.
Copycat brands don’t change the game. They cling to the current game like sucker fish, hoping for a free ride. Nothing they do takes the customer to the next level. Their identity devolves to features, which offer no identity traction at all.
David Pogue gives us a pretty funny glimpse of how this plays out in the current tablet market.
To change the game you have to change the customer. HP still has a way to go.
Thomas Keller’s French Laundry restaurant in California’s Napa Valley has been acclaimed as one of the finest restaurants in the United States, and in the world. It has achieved this rare distinction not by “branding” campaigns but by the extraordinary dishes that the restaurant serves to its guests. The brand is built from the kitchen out.
Thanks to a recent behind-the-scenes report in the San Francisco Chronicle, we can glimpse how the vision and values in the French Laundry kitchen translate into a world-class restaurant brand.
The brand as a method of achieving excellence
Some of my takeaways from the article:
- The French Laundry “brand” is a method of achieving excellence
- The brand tolerates no compromises in the pursuit of quality
- The brand is a culinary collaboration, a total team effort
- The brand is a shared discipline
- The brand doesn’t coast. It continually pushes the edge of creativity and innovation.
The French Laundry website has more information on the restaurant’s mission and values, and its menus.
The Victorinox Rescue Tool shows how:
I played around with one of these when I was in Hong Kong recently, no doubt terrifying the petite clerk kind enough to show it to me. It is serious business.
Rescue to the rescue
The bright lime yellow certainly fits the emergency mission, but I’m puzzled why Victorinox calls this a “Rescue Tool” on the device, squeezing the name to fit. It is a rescue tool, but why not just a big and bold RESCUE on the handle? It’s RESCUE that they’re selling, more than a “tool.” And I’d bet they’d sell a lot more that way, too.
It’s not too early to discern some strategic brand lessons from BP’s horrific oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is a global oil giant with a highly visible (and controversial) brand identity: a major oil company that’s positioned itself as “beyond petroleum.” Yet today the BP brand is smothered in oil as far as the eye can see, a symbol (and agent) of massive pollution.
Why the BP disaster is a big deal for brands
The BP oil disaster is a big deal for brands because it marks a catastrophic failure of a top-tier brand. As such, it stands to have far-reaching consequences that will play out in time across all brands. At this early stage, three immediate “big deal” factors stand out to my mind:
- BP has become the antithesis of its proclaimed identity. It has gored its own icon. How could that happen to a billion-dollar brand?
- We may be witnessing the greatest sudden loss of brand trust by a company in the history of business. This is much more than a brand doing a poor job of crisis management. It appears that the BP brand took its eye off the ball and allowed the crisis to happen, a transgression no brand—or business— can afford.
- Events suggest that BP’s reliance on “positioning,” “messaging” and “mindshare” (an advertising approach to brands) helped decouple the brand from operational realities. The resulting BP brand was “positioned in the mind” of a campaign audience but had diminished presence in BP’s drilling operations, where it was desperately needed before and after the blowout. Current cost of this disconnect: $2 billion (and growing).
What are the long term brand consequences?
As I see it, the BP oil disaster will contribute to a reassessment of the conventional “mindshare” approach to brands that treats brands as media artifacts in a persuasion package to shape perceptions. This superficial “branding” approach can blind the brand to operational issues desperately in need of brand direction. There’s growing evidence that this is exactly what happened in BP’s case. The brand outcome is the full story. It can’t be bottled in a mindshare campaign.
Due to the enormity of BP’s brand failure I’d expect to see a new emphasis on brands as a method of delivering operating value, rather than symbolic campaigns. In this structured brand value approach, brand principles and priorities directly drive business decisions, with a brand’s full emotional force. This is a working brand of company culture, rather than campaigns.
What went wrong with the BP brand?
What went wrong with the BP brand? The framing question, as I see it, is this: Did BP fail its brand? Or did the brand fail BP? At present, I’d say the answer is “Both.”
We also want answers to related questions: Were there critical flaws in the BP brand approach? In the brand model? In the brand strategy? In brand program execution? Was the problem weak brand leadership? Or was the brand simply marginalized, relegated to media campaigns and decoupled from essential company operations (e.g., brand practice in the oilfield) where it might have made a difference?
If the BP brand was indeed “beyond petroleum,” what precise vision and values guided BP’s oil production business, and its dedicated employees? BP’s 80-page Code of Conduct, “Our commitment to integrity,” makes no mention of the BP brand. How is that possible?
Not surprisingly, other oil companies are distancing themselves from BP’s oilfield practices.
A note about this post
I’m writing this as events unfold, so my assessments are preliminary. I’m also aware that BP is not the only company with responsibilities in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. My focus here is on brands as a form of strategic and operational leadership, and that means a focus on BP.
With a failing brand, BP’s troubles just keep gushing
When a brand fails, everything fails, and BP’s travails certainty point to systematic brand failure. We have BP’s CEO being raked over the coals in the US Congress. BP is currently facing possible criminal charges, accusations of cover-ups, fines of up to $258 million per day, and accusations of blocking reporters from covering the story. There are also serious allegations that BP had been cutting corners on safety.
BP’s brand failings have jeopardized the credibility of the oil industry itself, and will certainly lead to greater—and more costly—industry regulation.
What’s especially troubling is that these are the kinds of breakdowns in quality that brand programs are designed to prevent. A more effective BP brand program might have saved the $20 billion that BP must now set aside in escrow to pay for environmental and community damages.
The BP brand could have been a hero and shining star in this tragic episode. Currently, it bleeds copious amounts of trust with every passing day.
Basic brand lessons
What follows are some basic brand lessons from the BP oil disaster as I see them at the present time. 7
1. “Positioning” the brand where the core business isn’t (in BP’s case, “beyond petroleum”) puts the brand at risk.
The BP oil catastrophe may herald the end of artificial “brand positioning” as an element of brand strategy. Under its striking Helios logo BP claimed a high-profile positioning as a “green” renewable energy leader “beyond petroleum.” As such, the BP brand was aiming for a make-believe category in people’s minds, since BP’s business was petroleum for the foreseeable future. Instead of being an enlightened brand of innovative and responsible oil production, where 99% of its business resided, BP apparently let its “beyond petroleum” positioning blind it to a disturbing pattern of risky design practices and short-cuts over a decade of operations.
In the real world, it’s the vision and values at the operations level that position the brand—and the business—to succeed.
You’ll soon be hearing more about Taiwanese handset maker HTC. The company is making the leap from white label manufacturer to a brand in its own right. Marketing Week has the story.
For years HTC was best known as the maker of Windows Mobile handsets re-branded by carriers. Unfortunately, Windows Mobile has fallen far behind the iPhone and Google’s Android in mobile software innovation. For its own brand, HTC’s future probably lies more with Android as things look now. HTC’s new Android phones could equal (or better) the new Motorola Droid, assuming that HTC can use the latest version of Android that Google offers. (See this review.)
From enabling partners to enabling customers
HTC’s transition from white label manufacturer to a fully-fledged brand is a transition to a new level of business. In HTC’s case, it’s a transition from enabling mobile partners to one of enabling mobile customers directly. You can see this transition taking shape in HTC’s presentations, and in their advertising.
I may use the word “transition” to describe this change, but brand-wise, it is really a leap. Customers want that leap, too. They want the leap in value that brands can deliver.
HTC’s brand challenge
HTC’s brand challenge is the two-part challenge faced by all white label handset makers. First, HTC has historically been perceived as a maker of feature phones, where product features told the story. However, brands are about customer stories, not features. Specs count, but customers multiply.
Second, the handset itself is only one-third of the mobile phone experience. The handset is tied to the experience provided by the carrier, and by the brand of operating system. As its own brand, HTC must find a way to stand taller than the carrier brand and the brand of operating system in the eyes of customers. It cannot be “a Verizon phone,” nor can it be “a Windows Mobile phone” or “an Android phone.” It must command a context that is purely and uniquely HTC, a context that works wonders for customers.
A cultural transition leap
As a brand, a new HTC will emerge from the old. The transition leap from a manufacturing culture to a brand-enabling customer culture is not easy. Old barriers must fall; new freedoms must rise. From the looks of things, HTC has already made progress along this path. The real brand connection begins when the company and its customers are on the same page, writing it together. HTC’s task is to find that page, and begin a new book.
From “handset maker” to “computer maker”
The “handset” market died in 2007 when Apple redefined the mobile world with the iPhone. The iPhone is not a “handset.” It’s an amazingly powerful computer that fits in the hand—and makes phone calls. It’s the most user-friendly computer ever designed, and now boasts 100,000 apps. For HTC to succeed as a brand, its products cannot be “handsets.” They must be computers. Indeed, they must be better computers (for the customer) than the iPhone. To reach this brand level HTC cannot simply “think outside the handset.” As a brand, HTC must live outside the handset, in a new customer context.
From product to platform
As HTC builds out its brand, the nature of its products will change. They will cease being “products” per se and will grow into platforms for the HTC brand. Building on these platforms, HTC can deliver multiple layers of value direct to customers.
HTC’s brand strategy options
In general, HTC will need to sidestep the carriers, sidestep Android and Windows Mobile, and create its own customers. To do this, HTC must change the brand game. And it must create a new kind of customer. Trying to be “the best Android phone” or “the best Windows Mobile phone” will limit HTC’s brand potential.
Mobile brands are now platforms for customer-driven applications. The challenge is not “How many features can we offer?” The challenge is how to enable 110% of the customer. Brands need that extra 10%. Brands are agents of discovery; they pull customers to richer worlds. A strategy canvas can help.
HTC’s Sense UI is a strong step towards personalizing the mobile phone experience. It certainly demonstrates HTC’s ability to work with the underlying OS to extend the user experience within an HTC brand vision. At a deeper brand level, HTC will need to offer highly engaging apps exclusive to HTC customers. As a brand, HTC is in the app business. The apps will build the brand in ways that hardware cannot. (For more on HTC Sense, see this highly informative interview (video).
Toward a new context of customer
As a brand, it’s entirely within HTC’s power to create a new context of mobile customer. In this context, what the phone does is less important than what it enables customers to do, and to be. As a handset maker, HTC was shipping devices. As a brand, it will be shipping culture.
Image: HTC Hero via User Honza — Wikimedia Commons
You’re in luck. You’ve been invited to a Windows 7 launch party. Here’s your chance to catch the full force of the Windows 7 brand, head on. They’re planning the party now. So come on in. Join the fun:
Where’s the effing brand?
If you watched this party pooper for even a minute your reaction may be the same as mine: Where’s the effing brand? And who are these people? Why are they here? This is the brand’s coming out party. The brand is the show. Who gives a flying frig about party favors?
Set the brand free
There’s a Windows 7 brand in here someplace, begging to be freed. It’s stashed away in one of the cupboards. Or behind the sugar. Or buried in the fruit. Someone with decent brand sense (like Steve Jobs) would find it in a hurry. He would drag it to daylight, amp up the vision, forge an identity and unleash it on the world. That’s what this video should do.
Facilitators get in the way
Sadly, these folks don’t have a clue as to what the brand is, or where it’s headed. The way they’re talking, a Windows 7 launch is a sleepover.
And they talk too much. Brevity is the soul of wit, and of brands. The beauty of a brand is that it is, gloriously. The brand tells its own story. It’s immediate. Facilitators get in the way. We want the brand experience, not theirs.
Brands are binary
Truth is, brands are binary. In the brand world you’re great, or you’re garbage. There’s no in-between. These folks are launching the brand one step from the trash compactor. Go figure.