Category Archives: Brand Strategy

Starbucks from Coffee to Wine to Food to Focus ?

Starbucks is the miracle story of a US-based company becoming the expert globally in selling quality coffee. The company gave us the concept of an extra living room, or as Starbucks says,’ the third place between work and home.’ The coffee is not cheap, but the perception (supported by the price) is that you get a quality cup. The company has tried several times to break out of the Coffee category but time after time realises that Focus on the Core remains the best strategy.

Back in 1971, the company was all about Coffee, Tea, and Spices. In 1987 the founders sold the company to Howard Schultz. Under Schultz, the company focused on coffee. It created a new logo, and gone were the Tea and Spices. The new logo linked the brand and category. Starbucks = Coffee. As a result, the company went through massive growth. Between 2005 and 2011, revenues increased from 494M to 1,246M, a staggering 152%.

By the end of 2010, the company was ready for more growth. The company took the thinking of a ‘third place between work and home’ to a new level. Their customer-led research revealed that ‘Starbucks customers are also wine enthusiasts’ and ‘Starbucks customers love beer too’. There was a demand for a casual meeting environment in the evening hours. Starbucks was going to fulfill that role and serve the customers what they enjoy: wine and craft beer. Starbucks became so much more than coffee alone. The logo was updated to reflect that. ‘Starbucks Coffee’ was removed.

The Starbucks website introduced the Evenings program :

‘Starbucks customers are already enjoying coffee at our stores in the evening, and now, they have more menu options including wine, craft beer, and small plates.’

‘Rachel Antalek, Starbucks in-house sommelier, led the Evenings team as they explored the world of wine, looking for the most interesting assortment that’s not only delicious, but a great value as well. The team evaluated different varietals of wine to offer the complex and unique flavors that customers expect from Starbucks.’

The menu consisted of ‘Savory small plates’ and ‘Perfectly paired wines’. Some tasty examples from the menu :

Truffle Mac & Cheese
Chicken Sausage & Mushroom Flatbread
Meatballs with Tomato Basil Sauce
Truffle Popcorn
Wines – Sparkling, White, Sparkling Rosé and Red
Craft Beer

The program grew eventually to 400 stores in the U.S. and locations outside the U.S. The 2015 annual stakeholders meeting listed the Evening Program as one of the seven strategies for growth :

‘By the end of 2019, we will double food sales in the Americas through breakfast, lunch, snacks and the Evenings program. We will grow our food business in the U.S. from 18% to 25% of revenues by the end of 2019 adding an additional $2 Billion to our base business.’

In 2016 Starbucks stopped the program. It failed. The official reason was a ‘counter service format’ issue:

‘It appears that this strategy did not work, especially since table service in the evenings conflicted with the counter service format in the mornings.’

Of course the Evenings program did not fail because of the counter service format. The Starbucks company forgot that the position of the brand in the minds of people is just Coffee. It was never about Evening food, wines, and craft beer. Just imagine people saying, ‘Let’s get a glass of wine at Starbuck’. Starbucks is not going to replace wine establishments or bars.

Once companies have put their minds to something, they do not give up. So Starbucks decided to take all the learnings from the Evening Program to create high-end Roastery stores. In 2019 Starbucks introduced six Reserve Roasteries around the world, in Seattle, Chicago, New York, Shanghai, Milan, and Tokyo. The Starbucks Reserve Roasteries serve ‘unique food and beverage experiences’. Once again everything is directly connected with Starbucks the coffee brand.

Starbucks keeps trying because food is a huge growth area. The mistake the company makes is to enter the food category with a coffee brand. Starbucks could have done a couple of things. First, it could have reinforced its leadership position in coffee by bringing the unique Reserve and Barrel-Aged Coffee from the Roasteries to some of its locations. Additionally, Starbucks should have expanded outside the box with the Conquer Strategy. Launch a new brand to grow in the evening food and drinks category. The new brand should operate in new locations, closer to where the bars and restaurants are.



This article is from the book Win With What – the first category-led growth book for anyone who wants their business to thrive and survive.

Get your preview at WinWithWhat.com

 

Bugatti and TIDAL Audio – the brand partnership done right

Bugatti’s expansion beyond automobiles requires preserving its core values. Successful partnerships, like the one with TIDAL Audio, set new benchmarks in luxury and performance, offering customers unprecedented quality and exclusivity.

 

Founded in 1909 by the renowned Italian-born French automobile designer Ettore Bugatti, the Bugatti brand has a famous history of crafting the world’s most exclusive and sought-after performance automobiles.

Over a century later, Bugatti is embarking on an exciting journey to expand beyond automobiles and venture into new product categories, including residences, watches, and audio. Diversifying a brand into new territories is never easy. Typically, brand owners may assume that the reputation they’ve built in one domain will naturally translate into success in others. However, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

Every product category has its own established leaders, benchmark products, and unique customer bases. To make a mark in multiple categories, a brand’s core essence must be deeply understood by a broad range of consumers. Apple serves as a prime example, where innovation and style of their products consistently redefine categories, from the original iPod in music players to the iPhone as first touch smartphone and now into spatial computing with VisionPro.

 

Preserving Bugatti’s core essence in brand expansion

The Bugatti brand is synonymous with its core values of unparalleled luxury, performance, and exclusivity. These are not just principles but are deeply embedded in each Bugatti automobile. When venturing into new categories, this same core essence must be seamlessly carried forward. Any deviation risks compromising the brand’s image, as customers of incomparable products or experiences expect nothing less of everything carrying the brand name. Growing the Bugatti brand equity will be the result of reinforcing the brand’s core in behavior, communication, and products. This disciplined approach will also help determine which categories are suitable for Bugatti’s expansion. It becomes evident why products like water bottles, eyewear, or clothing that could possibly marked as merchandising accessories should be excluded from consideration, while timeless products and experiences in domains such as residences and audio can naturally align with Bugatti’s essence.

Expanding Bugatti into a new category and maintaining alignment with the brand-core from the outset is a major challenge. Crafting luxury and performance objects of this level usually takes decades of perfection. Therefore, extending the Bugatti brand beyond automobiles calls for strategic partners upholding the same rigorous standards and values in everything the partner does, as anything less could adversely affect the image of Bugatti and that of the partner.

The mindset of delivering the incomparable brand experience must be embodied in everyone working at Bugatti and its partners. Just adding the Bugatti logo on a product and charging more does not authentically make it a Bugatti product. In fact, the strategy of “logo plastering” is likely to have a negatively impact the reputation of the brands involved. The long-term effects of off-brand experiences don’t outweigh the short-term speed in go to market and financial gains.

An illustrative example is a recent case where a(nother famous audio) manufacturer thought to justify a 65% price hike by simply adding red paint and a little black horse to an existing product, without delivering any real benefit for the buyer. Speaking of pricing, the brand Bugatti would never associate itself with “our offers” and “best prices”- that is why you will not find this on e.g. their automobile pages. Bugatti should therefore insist that its partners never feature “offers” and “best prices” on pages associated with the Bugatti brand. The value of incomparable cannot be summed up with a simple price tag.

 

Entering the world of audio with TIDAL for Bugatti

The collaboration with TIDAL Audio is an exemplary illustration of how to execute a brand partnership successfully. TIDAL Audio is renowned for its loudspeakers and electronics, recognized as “the best-looking, best-built, best-sounding” in the industry. Founded in 1999 by Jörn Janczak, the company was driven by the unwavering ambition to redefine sound quality. The essence of Bugatti, as articulated by Ettore Bugatti himself – “if comparable, it is no longer Bugatti” – mirrors the core philosophy of TIDAL Audio. Both brands share a dedication to setting benchmarks in luxury and performance, and they succeeded in achieving this ambitious goal.

The “TIDAL for Bugatti” range has elevated audio performance and luxury to unprecedented heights. The ROYALE loudspeakers embody the spirit and idea of offering second to none technologies, execution and performance not done before and according to the experts in the audio industry setting the new benchmark.

This brand partnership is truly the blueprint for successful collaborations. And when a partnership is done right the benefits are mutual. Bugatti makes its mark in the world of ultra-high-end audio, redefining the category according to industry press and reviews, while TIDAL Audio enters the world of ultra-luxury lifestyle.

Ultimately, customers seeking incomparable luxury, performance, and exclusivity emerge as the ultimate winners in this extraordinary collaboration, reaffirming both brands’ commitment to being truly unmatched.

 

Categories come and go… and with AI faster and more impactful than before

Like everything else, nothing remains the same forever. New categories are born, evolve, and eventually fade away. Every change in a category has an impact on the brands within it. In today’s AI-driven world, category changes are happening at a rapid pace. Are you prepared for a brand repositioning?

When categories split, the mindshare is distributed among subcategories. For instance, when the family car category split into hatchbacks, sedans, family SUVs, and family 4×4, the mindshare of brands spread across these new subcategories. Some subcategories may only appeal to car enthusiasts.

At times, categories become irrelevant. The phone category transitioned from analog cabled phones to mobile phones and finally to today’s smartphones. In each step, we witnessed a new leader emerge. Motorola, renowned for its analog cordless phones, introduced the StarTAC clamshell mobile phone in 1996. The StarTAC achieved massive success in the USA and featured in numerous Hollywood movies. However, it was Nokia that became globally synonymous with mobile phones. Nokia evolved the category by incorporating computer-like functions such as an address book, calendar, notes, and simple games.

New categories, new leaders

Nokia was the first to launch smartphones, although they still had keys and resembled traditional mobile phones. In 2007, Apple revolutionized the category with the launch of the iPhone, featuring a touch interface that marked a clear break from the mobile phone category. The iPhone kickstarted the modern smartphone category we know today, causing Nokia’s global dominance to fade away. Presently, the smartphone category hosts numerous brands like Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Nokia, but it remains primarily dominated by Apple and Samsung.

Evolution of the phone category

 

In the phone category, the leading brand was able to evolve into the next category but never retained its leadership position. This pattern is not unique to phones but applies to nearly any evolving category.

AI accelerates category changes

Today, any category that can be AI-powered will undergo transformation. The keyword to watch out for is Smart: smart cars, smart watches, smart photo editing, smart ordering systems, and more.

When the leap from the current product or services to the smart counterparts is perceived as significant, it opens the door for a complete category shakeup, often accompanied by the emergence of new brands. We have witnessed this in the phone industry (Nokia to Apple) and the automotive industry, where underlying technological changes have been emphasized (leading to Tesla/Polestar). Similar “smart” shakeups will occur in many categories we currently take for granted, ranging from healthcare devices to photo editing software and customer support solutions.

For brands to survive within categories heavily affected by AI (which includes almost every category!), it is crucial to manage the category and brand association effectively and navigate the perceptual change of the brand in relation to the category’s evolution.

In my book Win With What I provide numerous methods and tools to help brands stay on the growth path or regain their position in a changing landscape.


This article is from the book Win With What – the first category-led growth book for anyone who wants their business to thrive and survive.

Get your preview at WinWithWhat.com

 

Mercedes-Benz may drop its “EQ” branding

Mercedes-Benz is starting to solve its confusing portfolio.  Reuters reports that Mercedes is to drop the EQ product brand.

The Mercedes-Benz portfolio is confusing as I detailed in a previous post in Oct 2021. One of the most striking examples of bad portfolio branding and execution is the Mercedes-EQ product branding for all-electric cars.

“EQS by Mercedes-EQ”

There is so much wrong with that sentence. The car EQS is a model by Mercedes-Benz, not by the Mercedes-EQ model family. And of course, in the Mercedes-Benz context, there is no need to repeat the company brand at all.

A much better solution would have been “New era: the EQ line for all-electric”.

Mercedes-Benz took (I guess) the internal organizational division between Gasoline and EV very seriously and launched an entirely new line of cars, even though in terms of actual car type/categories (SUV, limousine etc) the electric cars are the same as the combustion engine car brothers and sisters.

The combustion engine B on the left, the electric on the right. Same category, same design but a  different name.

A much better solution would have been to just use the EQ moniker to indicate the EV variant, similar to the fully descriptive “Plug-in Hybrid” to indicate the hybrid variant.

 

All Electric

The removal of EQ as a complete product line might take some time:

“The decision is based on Chief Executive Ola Kaellenius’ focus on electric-only cars, making the EQ brand redundant as Mercedes turns away from the combustion engine, Handelsblatt cited the sources as saying.”

In other words: Mercedes-Benz is not really intending to provide portfolio clarity or remove the EQ as a separate line. The company is simply replacing all combustion engine cars with fully electric cars.

The executed Switch Strategy does not come without risk. It is all about the ‘old’ gasoline car brands versus the ‘new’ electric car brands in a category shift. To compete in electric,  Mercedes-Benz will need to be more convincing in the buyer’s mind than the perceived leader in electric.  This means that when a consumer is in the market for an electric luxury SUV, the Tesla Model X has the leadership perception in terms of technology over the Mercedes-Benz GLC EQ.

Mercedes-Benz could have followed the Conquer Strategy, usually the safest and cleanest route to execute the company’s transition into a new category.



Read more about the Conquer and Switch Strategy in the book Win With What – the first category-led growth book for anyone who wants their business to thrive and survive.

Get your preview at WinWithWhat.com

 

Do you want to wake up with a nice cup of Mars, Twix, or Milky Way coffee?

The golden rule of branding is simple: extend your business, not your brand. Say hello to brand extensions gone crazy, and meet the Mars, Twix, and Milky Way coffee capsules.

Recently I walked into an XXL version of the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn. It is always interesting to see what products are sold in these bigger supermarkets.

In the coffee section, I noticed immediately the candy bar coffee cups. They were hard to miss, conveniently positioned at eye height.

 

When expanding the business there is a natural tension between brand owners and brands. Brand owners love their brands and find it natural to extend them into new and different categories. Brands, on the other hand, want to stay focused and become the leader of their category. Brands are right. Think about football players for a moment. Have you ever seen a premium league football player and gymnastic athlete in the same person? Of course not. Sports managers would not even consider their athletes to focus on many sports at the same time. They do not even remotely believe ‘their’ athlete might become leading in both fields.

The same goes for brands people buy. When a know or leading candy bar brand sells coffee cups, does that make them a leader in coffee? Not for those who care about coffee! In their minds, the quality of the focused brand is always better. The thinking goes, ‘if they only do that, the brand must be good’.

Mars and many other candy bar brands love to explore line extensions, probably from the believe that it is good to have consumers to engage with the brand at many different points of sale, functioning as a reminder for the real deal (the candy bar). It seems to me though that while that might be working it cannot be that buyers take a known Candy bar brands serious in coffee. In the same way chocolate bars of the “Hawaii Premium Kona Coffee Company” would not be taken serious by candy bar lovers either.

My advice is simple: keep your brand focused within the category it is known for. Any side steps will cost money, which needs to be balanced carefully against the value of the brand reminder. In other words: what is the loss in revenue for Mars candy bars if there are no Mars coffee cups at all.

Now I do have a question: who has purchased “Candy Bar” Coffee? Or other products like chocolade drinks, ice creams? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

The End of Facebook

Meta is running the last leg of its once so-popular social media platform Facebook: Facebook is on its way out.

In 2013 the Facebook CFO already warned of upcoming problems in the Q3 2013 earnings call “We did see a decrease in daily users partly among younger teens. … This is of questionable significance.”

In 2015 I concluded that Facebook, the brand leader of the extensive category social network, will eventually face issues with focused brands taking small bites out of the big pie and capturing users from the leader (link).

The combination of brand decline with the youth (= looking for another brand than Facebook) and new brands coming in (Snapchat, Insta, TikTok, and many more) eventually will lead to the end of Facebook. Facebook is not attracting the youth and grows along with the old.

In 2018 while teaching second-year students, I learned that the Facebook issues were more significant than I had thought: a few of the100 students used Facebook very specifically to browse posts. They did not post anything themselves.

Recently I decided to recheck the Facebook status with a large group of students. The trend has only gotten worse: Facebook is hardly in use with the group <25 years – not even to browse posts.

The generalist category “social network” is disappearing; with it, the brand Facebook will eventually disappear.

The company’s rebranding from Facebook to Meta was a vital move. Under Meta, each product brand can flourish without a link to the fading Facebook brand.  

Birkenstock – from “sandals and shoes” to “sleep systems” (Part II)

Birkenstock makes moves outside the perceptual category of “comfortable and stylish quality sandals and shoes”  

I discussed the Birkenstock Natural Skin Care line extension in the previous post. After sharing it on LinkedIn, I learned from Ruben Lekkerkerker that Birkenstock had already extended into sleep systems.  

To recap: Birkenstock is known for its quality sandals and shoes, and Google confirms its strong positioning. Yet the company wants to be known for: sandals, shoes, socksbags, cosmetics (creams, cleansing, oils) and belts, mattresses, frames, beds, and pillows.

 

Birkenstock also saw the opportunity in sleep systems and connected the world of a Shoe with Sleeping. In their words:

“Taking a great idea one step further: Just like the original BIRKENSTOCK footbed, our anatomically designed sleep systems also adapt to the shape of your body. This enables our mattresses, slatted frames and beds to support and ease the strain on the human body in an ideal manner when lying – helping you sleep as comfortably as possible. Feel refreshed from tip to toe.”

If you think this sounds like any other sleeping systems brand, then you are right – it does. Great mattresses adapt to your body and all great sleeping systems help you sleep as comfortably as possible, so you can feel refreshed when it is time to wake up…   

The thinking inside the company must have something like this: we are known for our “anatomically shaped cork-latex footbed” – this is all about adapting. In which growing category can we extend this thinking? SLEEP SYSTEMS!

The question is: will consumers buy Sleep Systems from a high-quality shoe and sandal brand?

Turn it around, would people buy Shoes or Sandals from sleep systems brands like Tempur or Hästens because they have great nights of sleep?

I seriously doubt it.

The secondary problem with these many line extensions is that Birkenstock signals that they are not so serious about what the brand is known for: shoes and sandals. Shoes and sandals are now part of the many other things the brand does.

In other words: if you have to make a call on buying shoes and you can choose between a brand that is only designing, manufacturing and selling shoes or one that does shoes, skincare, bedding and more… which one would you pick? Most often, the specialist wins over the generalist.

The best path for Birkenstock would have been to do exactly what Google and Facebook recently did: sell products with different target audiences or purchase intensions under different brands. The product looks so great that it would be a shame if they do not succeed because of the position Birkenstock has in the mind of the buyer: Birkenstock = Shoe/Sandals.

Birkenstock sandals and shoes going natural skin care

Birkenstock stands for comfortable and stylish quality sandals and shoes. With Birkenstock Natural Skin Care, the company moves into a new category. 

Birkenstock is known for its quality sandals and shoes, using the legendary footbed, providing support and comfort since 1774. A quick search on Google confirms the strong positioning.

The brand is moving in many directions. Its 1774 line is taking a position in the luxury sandals and show segment. Birkenstock joined forces with, for example, Maison Valentino, “Dior by Birkenstock” (reread the last three words again…), and other high-end brands.

At the same time, the brand is moving into a new category with “Birkenstock Natural Skin Care

Birkenstock line extensions
Birkenstock line extension logos

 

While the 1774 product line is connects to the Birkenstock core, Natural Skin Care is an actual departure into a new category.

The product development team connected the world of sandals and shoes with skin care  using a cork cap on all-natural skin care products.

The question is: will consumers buy natural skin care products from a high-quality shoe and sandal brand?

Like any other professional company, Birkenstock has probably done all the research to answer the question with a firm Yes.

My experience is that consumers who purchase the core product are often asked whether they would buy the line extended products as well.

The answer is often Yes, simply because the people who were asked the question already like the core product. Never mix the intention to purchase with an actual purchase decision. People buying skin care products will do so in the context of the skin care category. Birkenstock competes with brands like SkinCeuticals, CeraVe, Kiehl’s, and Rituals. A tough one!

To answer whether Birkenstock Natural Skin Care will be a huge success inside the skincare category, we could turn the question around. Would Kiehl’s “Finest Apothecary Skincare” ever be a success as the finest shoe and sandal brand? I doubt it.

What Birkenstock could have done is to apply the Conquer strategy: growing a new brand in a new category. Using a new brand gives freedom to operate and grow into currently impossible areas. At the same time it is also easier to stop without harming the brand in the original category. The Birkenstock Natural Skin Care products look great on the paper – it would be a shame if they do not succeed because of the “wrong logo”.

Apple is finally back at its core with the all-new Mac Studio and Studio Display

Over the years Apple lost its touch with the creative sector. The Mac Pro got very little attention and hardly any updates. The iMac Pro came and vanished again.  But now Apple is back with the Mac Studio.

The launch of the Studio was about time.  In 1997 Steve Jobs returned to Apple and launched the Think Different campaign. The campaign was the start of the reintroduction of Apple and linked the company brand to a new computer category: the computer for creatives.

Between 1997 to 2002, Apple told buyers of PCs that a better and more exciting alternative was required next to the IBM PCs. The reason? If every human did the same, using the same tools, the outcome would be similar, and society would not progress.

To support establishing the new category, Apple featured and promoted the creative ideas of people like Alfred Hitchcock, Pablo Picasso, Mahatma Gandhi, and Thomas Edison in ads.

The company established the need for the computer for creatives and successfully linked it to the brand Apple. The Apple company and Apple products became known for products optimized for the creatives of our time. Apple computers quickly found their way into marketing, creative agencies, DTPers, designers, musicians, writers, and anyone who aspired to be creative. Apple linked the brand to those who shape business, science, or society.

After the successful linking Apple with the creative sector the company got very sluggish in serving the creative crowd.

The release dates of the Mac Pro (a product made for the PROs!) tell it all:
2006 – First generation
2013 – Second generation
2019 – Third generation

The iMac Pro did not even get pass one generation.

Any Studio owner must have been thinking many times to switch to powerful Intel and Windows machines!

Till now: The Mac Studio is the answer to the creatives. Even the name indicates where the product will be used: in the Studio.

Icelandverse

Iceland’s parody on Metaverse – a new tourism video sparking thought about virtual versus real life.

Zuckerberg told the world “the metaverse’s defining quality is the feeling of presence … like you’re there with other people.”

The Iceland Tourism board made a brilliant move by positioning the country Iceland as a complete opposite of a virtual reality world envisioned by Zuckerberg.  Icelandverse is ”a place of “enhanced actual reality without silly looking headsets.”

 

 

It is good that brands (countries are brands too!) position themselves by presenting an alternative or an opposite. We humans still need alternatives. If you are not all-in Metaverse, then there is an alternative, the Icelandverse. If you do not like Coca-Cola, there is Pepsi. Alternatives and opposites help people to make a choice.