Category Archives: Brand Strategy

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.

 

Facebook going Meta(verse)

Facebook is making a smart move – rebranding the corporate brand to Meta, linking itself directly to Metaverse  while allowing each of the product brands to flourish.

 

Facebook follows the strategy of Alphabet Inc. Back in 2015, Google implemented the critical principle of brand building: expand your business, not your brand. Google Inc changed its corporate brand from Google to Alphabet – to undo the Google link: “the whole point is that Alphabet companies should have independence and develop their own brands.

Facebook Company was struggling in a similar way, because of the direct link with Facebook the product. The company even made the mistake to bring the company brand Facebook into the UI of Instagram and WhatsApp. Visually showing the Facebook brand impacted clarity of all brands involved- imagine the screens with ‘From Microsoft’ or ‘From Google’.

 

Not only did the clarity of Instagram and WhatsApp start to dilute, but also that of Facebook and Facebook Company. If a brand tries to be everything to everybody, it will ultimately become nothing to no one.

So on the 28th of October 2021, Facebook “did an Alphabet” – and changed the company name from Facebook Company to Meta. A brilliant move and name. By disconnecting the Company from Facebook it gives all products room to expand.  The Meta products:

The name Meta is directly linked to Metaverse – the virtual reality-based successor to the Internet. Perceptually Meta and Metaverse might become the same.

“Metaverse was originally coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional virtual space that uses the metaphor of the real world. Stephenson used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet.” (wikipedia)

 

Under the new corporate brand Meta the company can align all product brands and efforts under the strong mission “help to bring the metaverse to life“. The mission can now be executed with focus and without diluting the Facebook product brand or the other product brands.

 

Happy Socks is going slowly back to just selling Socks

Happy Socks is going back to its core of selling socks. The website is restructured around Socks. The Happy Socks Underwear is gone.

The brand’s core idea, to bring happiness and color to every corner of the world, can be replicated to other categories as well – but in the case of Happy Socks, the brand name will forever be limiting. 

Back in 2018, I wrote a post discussing the brand stretch of Happy Socks into underwear, swimming gear, and much more. I did not see a future for Happy Socks Underwear, Happy Socks Swimsuits, or Happy Socks Pool Sliders.  Strategically I saw two options for the Happy Socks company:

  1. Stick with the category of socks – and take more market share
  2. Bring the other products under a different brand

It seems that Happy Socks company is moving into the direction of option 1. The website is reworked, and the homepage has a clear focus on Socks.

 

The web menu makes the distinction even more clear. It is all about Socks and Not Socks.

The Not Socks section cover face masks and swimming gear. By positioning the products clearly as “Not Socks” it feels these products are more like accessories, not part of the brand’s core. This positioning gives Happy Socks Company more freedom to make changes to the portfolio. For example, if a line does not work, the company can easily replace it without hurting the core Socks offering. Of course, it is still weird to walk around in Happy Socks Swim shorts.

But how did the company get here?

Happy Socks got famous for its colorful socks. When the company was founded in 2008, most of the socks in the market were plain. The founders decided to change that and bring more color and design to our feet. Something remarkable happened: they made a boring accessory item (socks) into a hip fashion statement and succeeded.

The mix of focus on colorful socks, decent quality, and a brand name that boozes energy in a boring category worked well. Happy Socks are truly happy compared to traditional socks.
In 2017 the company sold most of the shares to a private equity firm – usually one of the warning signs that growth needs to be accelerated. The shareholders must have been thinking: the company knows about color and design, there are contracts with factories that can produce socks. Why not do some clothing? Happy Socks quickly expanded the product portfolio to underwear and swimwear.

Today the company seems to be getting more and more back to its core: socks. By positioning everything else as “Not Socks” it allows for freedom to experiment with the portfolio – without hurting the core.

ZOOM the company that delivers happiness

Some of my readers know that I am busy with a brand new book. At this stage, most of the book is written, but I continue my research. One of the companies I recently looked at was  ZOOM and specifically the About ZOOM web pages. My aim: to figure out what ZOOM stands for both inside and outside the company.

It was honestly a shock to read the content that defines ZOOM. In short: the About ZOOM page is a collection of empty and not differentiating brand & strategy blurbs. 

Let’s take a look at each of the elements of the About page:

#1. What is the Promise of ZOOM?ZOOM delivers happiness, every single day.

Yes, you are reading this right. Think about that the next time you are in a ZOOM call or get communications from ZOOM.

 

#2. What is the ZOOM culture?

To deliver on the ZOOM promise of Delivering Happiness, the company simply defined its culture as Delivering happiness – how thoughtful, differentiating and unique..

 

#3. How is the promise of ZOOM delivered?

Through one value: Care. Whatever ZOOM employees do for Community, Customers, Company, Teammates, and Selves: they Care.

I am not sure how just “Care” can be differentiating. Values should give clear guidance, like a compass, how decisions are made, actions are performed, and how employees communicate internally and externally. The company values should be so strong and unique to the company that users experience them every single time  when interacting with the brand.

So, what is ZOOM all about?

By now, you might be thinking, is ZOOM a new-age type of Happiness company, with dedicated employees delivering Happiness every day, and who are delivering this amazing Promise in a caring way.

Now, just hang on for a minute because the ZOOM Mission and Vision turn it all in a different direction.

 

#4 The Mission and Vision of ZOOM

The Mission and Vision seem an afterthought or leftover from previous strategy work.

The keywords of the previous sections Delivering Happiness and Care are replaced by Frictionless, Secure, Empowering, and  Accomplishing more.

Do you feel the difference? It is huge – when employees are focused on, e.g., empowering and accomplishing more, they are in a very different state of mind than when they Care or Deliver Happiness.

On the Mission and the Security element specifically: during the initial part of the Corona crisis, ZOOM got hit with severe security flaws, and even today, there are still privacy and security woes. Tom’s Guide keeps an up-to-date list here

 

#5 About ZOOM

The website continues with a small section, “About ZOOM” which again steers the company’s core into a different direction. In this section, ZOOM is there to help you express ideas, connect to others, and build toward a future limited only by your imagination.

 

Simple suggestions for improvement 

What is wrong with all of this with the stock-listed company ZOOMPretty much everything!

Let’s clarify the ZOOM brand in a straightforward way with just a few steps. 

#1 Firmly claim a position
It is vital to claim a position – only by doing so can people know precisely the difference between your brand and others in terms of what it concretely is and does.

Using ZOOM own words:
– ZOOM, the only frictionless video conferencing app
– ZOOM, the innovation standard in video conferencing

#2 Define the company character
What type of company is ZOOM? How do people work, decide and take action? This is not what we want the company to be, but what the culture is all about. Based on the direction given by ZOOM, I use the Caregiver character as an example. The Caregiver’s strategy is to do things for others, intending to help others. Compassion and Generosity are essential.

#3 Define brand values that steer 
Taking the Company Character and Care concept, we can define strong values, such as Thoughtful, Humane, Compassionate. These are all adjectives and are easy to use to steer activities. I can, for example, say, “this copy text feels thoughtful, humane, and compassionate. It is on ZOOM brand.” The values are also not the opposite or conflicting, which makes assessing actions focussed.

#4 Define the Belief
The Belief is rooted in the Company’s Character. As a belief, it is shared among all employees and is the foundation to deliver every single day the promise.
For example: At ZOOM we believe that the greatest, most sustainable happiness comes from making others happy.

#4 Define the promise
The Promise is also routed in the Company Character and delivered by employees to each other and external.
For example: At ZOOM we promise is to be good and do good

 

Summing at all up

The brand can be summed up in a few lines. While I did not include a mission or vision it feels more coherent in steering the brand in actions, decisions, products, and communications.

  • ZOOM is the only frictionless video conferencing app
  • Audience:  Community, Customers, Companies, Teammates, and Selves
  • Promise to each other and customers: to be good and do good
  • The promise is delivered through the values: Thoughtful, Humane, Compassionate
  • And ZOOM can make it happen because it firmly beliefs that the greatest, most sustainable happiness comes from making others happy.

 

Photo by Arjohn Janroe Queral on Unsplash

Mircosoft goes back to the future with renewed focus on productivity

It took a while, but slowly but surely Microsoft is becoming the company that truly stands for productivity.

Microsoft is going to make real strides in translating the brand into products and propositions and become again the company that stands for productivity; exactly as we came to know it.

After all, productivity is where the brand started for the masses. Think of the IBM PC with MS-DOS, first used in the business environment.

With the introduction of Windows and Office, it was, of course, completely clear: the combination in the workplace and synonyms for productivity.

Even the competition recognized this positioning. Apple made some jokes about PCs and PC users in its Mac vs PC ad, but deep down it was a character sketch of creative versus productive. This is also exactly the difference between the Office Suite and the Apple iWork Suite. One is focused on productivity, the other primarily on creativity.

Now it is clear again to Microsoft itself what the core of the company is. In an email, ceo Satya Nadella says that “at our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.’

The recent repositioning of the Surface tablets towards productivity is already a great example. In 2012, the Surface was launched as ‘a laptop in a tablet form’. Very inconvenient when the obvious trend is that the number of laptops is decreasing. In addition, the Surface had all sorts of problems such as a sky-high price (nota bene more expensive than a laptop with touch), moderate battery consumption and lack of applications. Due to its unclear positioning, the Surface was compared unfavorably to iPad, the #1 in the tablet category.

The new Surface website now provides more clarity. A translation of the brand into propositions is visible. I read ‘Surface – the most productive tablets on the world’. Of course this could have been even sharper, for example ‘Surface – the first tablet focused on productivity’ with a headline like ‘finally, a tablet that can replace your laptop’. But the beginning is there.

Now that Microsoft’s core is crystal clear, it needs to make a clear choice and then, of course, go for it. The recent news of 18,000 job cuts will certainly contribute to this. For example, how does the Xbox gaming platform fit with productivity? How does Nokia phones’ focus on their photographic capabilities fit with productivity?

If the brand is truly providing direction, then the character or values of the brand can be used as a compass. Creating and executing branded products & propositions then becomes easier. And consumers understand exactly what you do and-importantly-how you make a difference.

This article was published in Adformatie (Dutch).

Instagram out of focus

We all know Instagram, the app to take photos with your mobile, apply beautiful filters and share them. Instagram makes pretty much any photo look good! Recently Instagram added the possibility to create videos, add beautiful filters and share them.

The question is: does it really matter? Will Instagram users care, follow and start sharing videos enhanced with filters en masse?

The answer depends very much on how Instagram is positioned in the minds of users. When users think “apply filters” but say “just Instagram it” then yes, users could make the leap.

But I have some doubts. First, Instagram is simply the #1 photo sharing site for photos with filters. The core of Instagram is photos + filters, it is not the other way around. This is very hard to change.

Secondly, in the photo and video online business it is not about convergence, it is all about divergence. Flickr has done videos since 2008, but videos are really hard to find on the site. In fact, there is not a single mentioning of “video” on the flickr.com home page. The same goes with professional photo editing tools. Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture both provide possibilities to edit videos, but no mentioning of this feature on their main product pages.

While the adoption rate for Instagram with video will be huge and we will see plenty of users trying it out, I do believe that the better route for Instagram in the long run would have been to keep focus and continue to bring only the best possible photos + filters experience under the Instagram brand.

At the same time Instagram could have expanded the business to video by either acquiring an existing company or by starting a new brand with a dedicated focus on video + filters. This would allow the company to innovate in both categories without dependencies. More importantly, in the long run, it might bring in users who are not using Instagram for photos or don’t want to use it.

Good examples are Twitter and Vine (which is owned by Twitter). Both are about snippets of information, Twitter in text, Vine in a 6 second looping video. Both are managed under a separate brand. A case could have probably been made for Vine to be called Twitter Videos, but luckily it got to remain as an own brand and look what happened!

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

Burger Brand Battle

Context: In Finland is a burger fast food duopoly between McDonalds (American) and Hesburger (Finnish). In May Burger King announced it would re-enter the market (their first attempt years ago failed) through a local chain called Restel.

Big news when Restel announced to bring Burger King back to the Finnish fast food market! Of course, McDonald’s quickly pointed out that the fast-food market in Finland is tight. Indeed, after Hesburger bought Carrols in 2012 the common believe might have been that the Finnish market is to small to go beyond a duopoly. Nothing could be further from the truth: with the arrival of Burger King the burger brand battle is about to start!

So, what might happen?

For the current players in the market, McDonalds and Hesburger I can only see trouble at the horizon. In general brands are strongest when they mean one thing and one thing only, like Heinz = Ketchup. This is the power of focus. Both Hesburger and McDonalds are currently not very focussed brands. Let me ask you, how would you describe McDonalds or Hesburger to your friends in a couple of words without using any marketing talk? It is quite difficult, isn’t ? I have heard some: McDonalds is the original or American, Hesburger is Finnish, there is a difference in mayonnaise etc. These are all right, but they do not help McDonalds or Hesburger to position itself clearly in the market.

Burger King on the other hand can capitalise on a very strong position: Burger King = Fire-grilled beef. So, if you want a fire-grilled beef burger you go to Burger King. When it comes to brand clarity Burger King is currently the winner!

What could McDonalds do?
McDonalds could focus on being the really FAST, fast, food restaurant. After all, a fire-grilled beef burger does imply slowness to it. Another alternative is to (re)focus around family: McDonalds, the family fast food restaurant.
What McDonalds should not do is to further increase the number of products. For example, the current MyBurger campaign does not help to increase clarity of what McDonalds is. It is merely a nice marketing activity but it is not helping to build the brand.

What could Hesburger do?
Hesburger will be in an interesting position. Being a Finnish chain in the middle of the two American giants they should play the Finnish card. This could be done through ensuring everything they sell is produced in Finland. If this means reducing items on the menu, then go for it! For example, a Fish burger made of fish from Finland. Of course, on the box you can read which Finnish fish is used in the burger. Another alternative is to play on the Finnish taste buts. Hesburger will be perceived to know the Finns best!

Now, is the Finnish burger market really so tight that there is only space for three chains?
I don’t think so! Could you imagine a chain that only and only focuses on organic burgers? I can! Or what about a chain like the In-n-Out burger in the USA that has only three top notch quality burgers on the menu? Could that work? Of course it can!

I claim that in Finland there is space for at least five burger chains… let the burger brand battle begin!

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta