General Motors transitions to EV the Nokia way

GM makes the strategic error of announcing a full transition to EV without having the portfolio of cars to back it up. 

 

General Motors started the year with a big splash…. a new logo and a new company direction (link)!

General Motors invites ‘Everybody In’ – underlying the change to electric vehicles using their new Ultium platform.

This is the new home page:

And yes, you are reading that right:
We’re making Electric Vehicles for all.

Never mind that the current product portfolio has one electric car!

The stats across the GM brands:

  • Chevrolet: 1 EV  out of  16 car models
  • Buick: 0 EV out of 5 car models
  • GMC: 0 EV out of 12 car models

This reminded me immediately to a company very dear to my heart: Nokia.

Back in 2011 (the 11th of February, a day I never will forget)  the Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced transition from the  ‘smartphone OS’ Symbian to Windows Phone 7. All of this was done without a single Nokia Windows Phone ready to hit the market.

 

The fallout was massive… the Symbian sales went down the drain, and in fact the brand Nokia went down the drain.

What -on paper- appeared an ‘easy transition’ turned out to be not that easy. The company had an enormous knowledge of the ‘old technologies’ and very little of Windows Phone, it was a transition that was not easy, and it turned out to be very unsuccessful.

The reason for the failure was not alone the internal Nokia execution. The other part was  consumer perception. Whether Nokia employees liked it or not, Nokia as a brand was not Apple or Android.

Fast-forward to 2021 and GM… we see exactly the same happening:  introduction of a new strategy to ditch conventional car engines without having a line up ready to  underscore the strategic direction to consumers.

The result: consumers will pretty much stop buying GM conventional engine cars until the cheaper EV models are available. During this time GM will need to transition… at rapid speed. Similar to Nokia, GM is full of conventional engine experts and none of that is relevant anymore.  That is A LOT to bridge… especially in an economic downturn time.

On top of that GM is still not Tesla or any another EV car brand…

The only real benefit GM has at this point, is the fact that there are not yet any real affordable EV players in the market that consumers can buy right now.

GM: I am afraid you made a strategic error by pleasing shareholders (short term benefit) while ignoring the product portfolio and consumer perception (GM does, unfortunately, not equal EV). Announcing a transition without cars will result in stagnation in sales of conventional engine cars.

Snickers Shake! Do the Flip test

I found this Snicker Shake image on my phone. I took this photo back in 2017 to keep it as a memory of yet one more failed line-extension.

It is quite amazing to see big brands falling for the line-extension trap. In The Only Book You Will Ever Need on Branding, we introduced a simple tool to check whether a brand extension makes sense. We called it the Flip Test.

If your brand and category are Snickers candy bars, and you want to see whether consumers could make the stretch and buy Snickers Shakes, then… flip it! Take an established brand in shakes, like Ripple, and extend it to your category of candy bars.

Then ask yourself… does this make sense? NO! So, in this case, the brand Snickers should not extend into Shakes.

One more…

Current: Red Bull energy drink
Extension: Red Bull Cola

Flip it!

Current: Pepsi cola drink
Extension: Pepsi energy drink

Does this make sense? No.
So Red Bull should not have extended into cola drinks.

Flip before you stretch your brand!

Strong brands do not need discounts

The impact of discounting products on the short and long term. 

The Black Friday & Cyber Monday sales are almost over. Consumers who got some deals are happy, and so are businesses. 

For companies, sales discounts are a great way to boost short term sales. It is an approach with guaranteed success. If you want to increase the sales bonus, then start offering discounts! When your product is in demand, you will notice that even people who do not need it right away might buy it because of the deal. 

Like with everything, there is a flip-side to the discount deals craziness – I like to call them deal traps, and here they are:

Postponed purchases of higher value items in general

If your product is NOT a fast-moving consumer product but a substantial investment for consumers, you must consider any possible discount you are providing. Imagine if I am in the market for an expensive bed, I could easily wait till Black Friday to purchase if it saves me 30% of the new price. Believe it or not… people are willing to wait till the next round of discounts. And at the same time, they do know the room to negotiate.   

Artificial purchase cycles, esp with higher value items 

A great example of this discounting is FujiFilm. In Spring, Summer, and Winter, they run pretty steep discounts on cameras and lenses. Now how often do people buy cameras and lenses? If you are in the Fuji camp, you should make your purchase three times per year! And what happens when a camera or lens is you like to purchase is not on sale? Then wait -if you can- till the next seasonal offers. Changes are your dream kit will show up at some point. 

Suggested retail prices do no longer exist.

Discounts reduce the suggested retail sales prices of the products in the mind of the consumer. Once you have seen a printer in a special offer for 69EUR, you won’t pay that 99EUR suggested retail ever again. Perception is why strong brands never engage in discounts – because discounts perceptually make the brand and product positioning weaker. 

Apple only recently engages in discounts, but they are never direct discounts – always in Apple Gift cards, to be used in the Apple Stores. You pay the full price and get rewarded with Gift cards. This way, the value perception of the product in the mind of the buyer won’t change.

So, what is the alternative to consider?

Never discount your core product but provide perks around it. For example, if your business is, let’s say, Music composition software, then never create a deal on the software. Instead, provide perks and packages of items people get when they buy the software. For example: buy the software get a plugin for six months for free. 

Whatever you do, keep in mind that strong brands never do discounts and never need to do discounts. 

 

Apple Redefining the PC industry

The Apple The Future of Mac event was a big bold move as Apple transitions away from Intel processors to in-house developed silicon. The move is in fact a redefinition of the PC industry business from ‘processor speed’ to a pure choice in form factor.  Yet another industry will get a rude awaking. 

One to rule them all

The reason for Apple silicon is obvious: when you own the full stack from silicon to the user interface you are in control of the total experience while reducing interdependencies.

There is however one drawback to this approach and that became painfully obvious during the presentation of the new Macs: Apple has just one chip which is not advertised in speed.

Consumers have learned that processor speed and the type of processor determines the processing power of a computer. Secondly, by using different processors manufacturers are able to differentiate between their line-up.

An entry laptop will not have a 3.0Ghz 6 core processor with a turbo boost for example. The fact that it was technically not possible (battery and heat-wise) helped to differentiate in various product-lines built around the processor.

 

No more differentiation around the processor

With the introduction of M1, Apple uses the same silicon in their-line up. It was clear from the launch events that Apple struggled with the differentiation between the products.

Just take a look at the Apple Mac Compare page for the new M1 products: Macbook Air, Macbook Pro and Mini and you will notice it is all the same

There are some small differences, like Touch Bar, Wide Stereo Sound, nits brightness, expansion ports… but nothing more.

Even on the individual product pages, the same M1 information is presented:

 

The future is form 

Going forward the difference will be in the form, additional gimmicks, but not speed. In fact, just like with the iPhone product platform the difference will be the form factor: iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max

This change in dealing with a computer portfolio is probably the biggest change we have seen.

Taking this approach makes it easy for Apple to create product update cycles based on the M processors, which could go like this:

2020
Macbook Air M1
Macbook Pro M1
Mac Mini M1

2021
Macbook Air M2
Macbook Pro M2
Mac Mini M2
iMac M2

With heath and power consumption for the first time not being an issue anymore in the computing industry line-ups can be dramatically simplified.

During the launch event, the positioning between the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro was far from clear.  Both are exactly the same, except for some small features like ports, touch bar etc – so why would Apple keep in them in the long run? The answer: for the form factor, think screen sizes and future platform enhancements made possible by the total control of everything from processor to UI.

 

Redefining the PC industry

With the move to form factor based differentiation Apple is redefining the PC industry. The same portfolio simplicity that works with the iPhone, iPad, and Watch has now finally entered the desktop and laptop market.  The PC manufacturers with Intel will be in for a rude awakening.

 

Be careful when leaving the brand core – case Fujifilm

Fujifilm – a personal brand favorite of mine –  recently launched a new product line of cameras seen as Sony copy cats. Is that a good or a bad thing? While I realize not all of my readers are digital camera photography enthusiasts, the lessons in this article are applicable to any industry.

In his brilliant book Innovating Out of Crisis: How Fujifilm Survived (and Thrived) As Its Core Business Was Vanishing, Shigetaka Komori, the CEO who brought Fujifilm back from the brink explains how he engineered the transformative organizational innovation and product diversification of Fujifilm. It really is an amazing story.

The key principle during this process of organizational engineering was that Fujifilm remained true to its roots.  The mission of Fujifilm remained that of Preserving and Sustaining the Culture of Photography.

This result of this mission can be found in the design of the Digital Imaging products of Fujifilm. Fujifilm understood there are a couple of ingredients to a valuable imaging brand: lens, sensor, processor *and* connecting to the heritage of photography.

In the case of Fujifilm, this translated itself to the creation of cameras with a  distinct vintage look, with the same dials and buttons and the original Fujifilm. And very important, simulations of original Fujifilm analog films are built-in the camera.

Fujifilm. X100V, a vintage looking camera

 

The result: a huge fanbase of Fujifilm camera enthusiasts combined with a distinct positioning. Fujifilm Is the only “film” brand that made -without any doubt- the transition to digital! 

So far… so good!

But something happens to every focused brand: the need to expand or extend. In the case of Fujifilm, they decided to copycat their biggest competitor: Sony.

And with it, Fujifilm launches a new “S” product line, the first product being the S10. Gone is the retro look, gone are the dedicated buttons, gone is that vintage photography feeling Fuji brand advocates love so much.

Fujifilm X-S10 – the Sony copy, no more vintage

 

The Fujifilm site “Fujirumors” calls it exactly what it is The Vintage Departure.  And that is not a good thing.

Of course, Fujifilm will attract some new buyers, but while doing so it loses in being the distinct photography brand. In other words, all the carefully build up brand equity will get a hit.

And, perhaps easy to forget, but if buyers would have wanted a Sony, they would have purchased a Sony to start with. Nobody likes to have the copy, it gives the impression you would not be able to get the real thing.

The same would be for Sony. If Sony would make cameras looking like Fujifilm it might attract of course some people, but those who really go for the Fuji look, feel and operations will come to Fujifilm.

Think about it, do you rather drink Coca-Cola or a “supermarket own brand” version? Do you rather drive a Tesla or the Mercedes-Benz electric car?

My prediction is that the new Fujifilm S line will be one of short term gain and a long term pain. The better move would have been to invest in new and innovative ways to stick to the core and preserve, sustain, and expand the culture of photography.

 

Spotify, claim your leadership position now

The Spotify app for music streaming launched already back in 2008. For the majority of consumers, Spotify is still synonymous with Music Steaming.

The growth of Spotify in terms of subscribers is very impressive and in line with the uptake of 3G/4G data contracts and interest in ‘music as a service’ in general.
– 2011: 2M paying
– 2012: 15M free, 5M paying
– 2013: 18M free, 6M paying
– 2015: 55M free, 25M paying
– 2020: 133M paying

When looking at Google Trends data it is clear that very little people search for the product category “streaming music or streaming songs”. Instead, people search directly for the brand Spotify.

The insight:  the brand Spotify in the minds of consumers truly equals the category. What a wonderful position to be in!

Of course, the world changes, and like in every successful category competition comes in.  Besides Spotify, we now see players like Apple Music, TIDAL, Amazon Music, Youtube Music and Pandora (US only).

 

And while the fight is massive, with huge lock-in advantages for Apple and Amazon we still see that Spotify is leading the category (source: MidiaResearch)

  • Spotify: 36%
  • Apple Music: 18%
  • Amazon: 13%
  • TIDAL: not disclosed – part of  “the other” category at 11%

The market research results are in line with what we see in Google Search volume:  the clear leader is Spotify .

With all the new and very powerful competition, the overall marketing of “streaming music” grows and more and more people get interested.

The question is: who benefits? is it the perceived leader or the company doing all the marketing? It turns out, so far Spotify is benefitting. A Reuters technology news item from 2016 proved the point “Spotify says growth has quickened since Apple Music’s launch”.

There are two reasons for this:
1) Spotify remains to have the pioneering advantage – consumers know more about it and other services have not yet proven itself completely.

2) Consumers simply think “if Apple/ Youtube/ Amazon are active in streaming then (the leader) Spotify must be really good” and they default the purchase to the category leader. Consumers showed similar behavior during the famous Pepsi vs Coca-Cola challenge, also here the leader benefited.

 

Fast Forward to 2020…. 

Today we see many new streaming consumers, all people who do not know anything about the early days of streaming and might not have a perceived leader at all – they just go for what is most convenient “because they are all roughly the same anyway”

And looking at the brands in the App Store it seems they just don’t want to differentiate – at all!

Below are the descriptions in the App Store – try to find the differences or reasons to download one app over the other…

Spotify: Music and Podcasts
Discover the latest songs

Apple Music
60 million songs. All ad-free

TIDAL Music
Hifi Songs , Playlists & Video

Amazon Music: Listen Ad-Free
Stream & Download New Songs

YouTube Music
Stream Songs and play videos

 

Below is my attempt to position each app stronger by focussing on their strengths – helping consumers to navigate and make a choice.

Spotify: Music and Podcasts
The #1  streaming music app

Apple Music
The worlds biggest ad-free library

TIDAL Music
High fidelity sound, hi-def video

Amazon Music: Listen Ad-Free
Stream for free with Prime

YouTube Music
The #1 in music videos

 

In order for Spotify to keep their leadership position in the years to come, they will need to claim the position and live up to it – externally and internally.

Only then consumers who are in the market to spend money on streaming will be able to choose the leader because after all,  it is only the leaders who have followers.

 

Discover Your ‘Zen ‘Personal Brand Consistency’ Score

I know, you must be thinking… “A Zen Score… what has that to do with branding ?”

A lot actually!
More on that soon.

First, during this forced Corona stay at home time, you must have noticed the importance of working and living in an environment that encourages your mental and physical well-being as well. It really is more important than ever before!

To help you understand the impact of your home to your well-being the amazing team at EMRAYS developed the free ZenX app.

You simply scan any room in your home to instantly discover your Zen score to help you improve your life at home! The app will report back the level of order and calmness, the way your room affects you, and the mix of furniture styles.

And the app tells a lot about your brand as well!  Does the score reflect your personality and hence your personal brand? Is there a match or mismatch?

If you feel there is a mismatch then now is the time to work on your desired identity versus your image!

I invite you to have some fun with ZenX – it is currently available for iPhone 6 and higher as part of the Apple Testflight program.

Find out more on ZenXApp.com or get going right away and download ZenX here.

Stay healthy!

Will COVID19 force brands to get back to their core?

Looking back to the world prior COVID19 feels like a long time, most markets were growing and the economy was doing just fine. Companies focused on growth, and usually, that meant expanding the line with new products, trying to target different segments or purchasing companies.

Now when thew world has literally come to a standstill things have changed. And they have changed a lot.

The one thing that happens during every crisis is that both companies and people get back to focus on what is really important. For companies, this means going back to what made them memorable in the first place. All the activities beyond the core start to become the subject for discussion.

At my company, Monday Brand we have gone through a self-evaluation process as well. When we started back in 2012 the focus was on Brand Positioning and optimizing Brand Architectures. To facilitate brand ownership of positioning and architecture within client companies we started offering very successful In-Company Activation programs. Because after all, it is the people that need to make it happen!

And then it happened… our clients asked for more, which is a very natural thing when you like what someone does for you. And so we added Brand Identity Strategy to our services, helping our clients to translate the positioning into an authentic brand expression. In some sense it was perhaps one step too far, bringing us closer to full-service agencies and therefore undermining what we truly stand for.

So, today we decided to go back to the core and focus only on three services: Positioning, Brand Architecture and Company Activation.

In January we started thoroughly reviewing our services, and since then we made updates to incorporate the very latest thinking and approaches allowing us to be even more effective. As we work mainly internationally, one of the guiding principles has always been that everything we do has to work fully through ZOOM.

When COVID19 happened we were prepared – we are more focused on our core and in these times of physical distancing we will continue to work through ZOOM serving our clients globally.

In case you recognize as well the need to focus on your core within your company or personally and want to discuss more, then please contact me at michiel at mondaybrand.com.

Stay safe, stay healthy!

Why some companies change a successful brand positioning

Recently I got a LinkedIn message from a reader about my Volvo Positioning articles (see Article 1, Article 2, Article 3). The question was: WHY did Volvo make the change to dump its historic positioning around safety?

While I do not have the exact answer on the Volvo case – I have seen in my brand advisory business and previous corporate life a couple of reasons WHY companies change their positioning.

 

The four top reasons I have come across for making big changes in positioning:

1: Boredom internally or with agencies
Many times people inside the organization and their supporting agencies get bored with the brand. They have worked on it for too long, the brand has become their daily reality and when constantly seeing and hearing the same things, it is only natural for people to get bored. Yet, consumers only interact and think about your brand a fraction of the time you spend with it. And that valuable time is needed to keep reminding them about something they know! Unfortunately, most brands fall sooner or later in the boredom trap.

 

2: Significant change in shareholders
New owners are often THE reason to make changes. After all, why would one need NEW leadership if all stays the same? In many ways, shareholders also expect that… when new leadership comes in big things are about to happen… and shares/ profits / … should go up. This is what likely happened to Volvo.

Ford Motor Company offered Volvo Cars for sale in December 2008, after suffering losses that year.  On 28 October 2009, Ford confirmed that, after considering several offers, the preferred buyer of Volvo Cars was Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the parent of Chinese motor manufacturer Geely Automobile. On 23 December 2009, Ford confirmed the terms of the sale to Geely had been settled. A definitive agreement was signed on 28 March 2010, for $1.8 billion. (source)

 

3: CV builders
Another one to watch for – CV builders have an interest in well… building the CV, and that means… something substantial needs to happen to the company they work for (‘the host’).  Something really substantial is of course to change the positioning of a brand – a big CV ticket item!

 

4: New Marketing Lead
An obvious one – but when companies assign a new marketing lead, they do expect the marketing to change. There is nothing more profound and more interesting to do for a marketer than changing the positioning of a brand.

 

Now that you know some of the key reasons why companies change their positioning, let me explain HOW you can reinforce your positioning.

Keep the brand linked to a category or a ‘job to be done’.
For example, in case of Volvo the category is/was safety. The job the brand does/did was to protect the family in the best possible way.

Of course, over time many other cars have gotten safe as well, but only one brand can be the safest. So, the only job Volvo had to do, is to make sure consumers continue to link the brand Volvo with Safety. This is done through product development with a  focus on safety features, linking the brand to general traffic safety PR campaigns, and promote safety features in marketing … because even though other brands are safe too, the brand Volvo has a perceptual advantage.  And above all… why would Volvo want to waste millions of EURs in over many years build-up brand positioning?

Shift your category or ‘job to be done’ to an adjacent category if your current category is not relevant anymore
For example, analog photo camera’s are not that relevant anymore, but cameras (still) are. So, in this case, your job as a brand owner is to shift the brand from a camera that is analogue to a camera that is digital. There are plenty of examples that this works (Canon, Nikon), and the best being Fujifilm. Fujifilm was able to transition some of their amazing analog film rolls as simulations in their digital products. Fujifilm reinforced what made them big in the first place, just in a different, but adjecent category!

 

In conclusion – whenever you do change your positioning, keep in mind that you do it for the right reasons and that you need to continually build on the brand that you own in the mind of the consumer.  It is not just about “trying something new”, “renewing the essence of the brand” or “exploring the cool edges of the brand”. After all, learning and confirming the perception of a brand  is done best through repetition.

Leuchtturm – what an experience!

I would have not ever thought to buy a real notebook ever again…. but I did! While walking around in a stationary store , many colorful notebooks from Leuchtturm were looking at me.

And I could not resist… why? Because the brand works!

The Leuchttrum brand: a promise made is a promise delivered.

 

 

1. Heritage

Leuchttrum is around since 1917, that is a very long time indeed, and according to the message, they firmly believe that details matter.

 

2. Details make all the difference

Leuchttrum does live up to their belief. This ‘simple’ notebook has the following features:

  • Pagination
  • Labels
  • Page markers (2x)
  • Ink proof paper!
  • Table of content
  • Pocket to store stuff
  • Perforated sheets (8x)
  • Thread bound & acid-free paper

 

3. Focus

Leuchtturm does one thing and one thing very well:  Notebooks. Their product offer is huge.

From the Notebook category, they moved into Planners and a few storage options

This is very different than Moleskine, offering everything from notebooks to bags, to device accessories.

The ‘better’ notebook brand is perceptual of course the brand creating only notebooks! A quick look at the Instagram account will convince you immediately. The books are not only beautiful but also very functional.

The Leuchttrum brand in a nutshell: a promise made is a promise delivered. 

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