Category Archives: General

Go Volvo be Volvo – back to safety ? – Part III

This post is part of three Volvo Positioning articles :
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 (this article)
Reflection as to why successful companies change their positioning

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Regular readers of this blog know that I follow Volvo. I find it a fascinating brand and close to my heart. I am raised in a Volvo family and I still remember the day that we got a Volvo 240 and my father was proudly showing the (massive) crumple zone to anyone interested.

Unfortunately,  in my opinion Volvo has lost track with safety or simply got bored with it.

In search for the core

I wrote about Volvo in 2011 when the brand so hard tried to be a brand it is not (BMW, Audi, …), literally divesting all the hard-earned brand building. In  2014 I wrote again about Volvo.  In that year the brand continued to be in real trouble in the USA. Already in 2012 the WSJ Market Watch suggested that Volvo might as well exit the market.  I was eagerly waiting what the move of Volvo would be. The real options are of course to go fully back to the core of the brand or go further away.

The ‘in between’ option

Volvo has unfortunately chosen the ‘in between option’  of doing a bit of both. The new Volvo USA site is a clear manifestation of that approach.  I really like the new site, it feels Volvo. Unfortunately it does not read  Volvo.

The one thing we connect the Volvo brand to,  Safety is simply not a topic. Other car brands can get away with this but Volvo is not any other car brand, it is the brand that is perceived to be the safest car brand.

“This is Volvo Cars”  –  no  safety anymore

The lead text of the section “This is Volvo Cars” reads:

This-is-Volvo

Indeed, no mentioning of Safety at all. I would have changed that to something like this:

This-is-Volvo-Edit

Product pages – premium cars

The individual car pages follow the same pattern, with a tiny little mentioning of safety. Take a look at the  Volvo XC90 page. Beautifully designed yet the only mentioning of safety is in the right bottom of the page. And as you will see it is a long long scroll to get there.

XC90-safety

The XC90 page is no exception. On every other car page you find Safety in the rock bottom of the page.

Value propositions without safety 

XC90
Swedish grace – Our newest Volvo with bold harmonious design, pure uncluttered luxury, and advanced safety and comfort for seven

XC70
Choose your adventure – The XC70 is a supremely luxurious wagon for those who like their adventure with a sense of sophistication.

XC60
At home, everywhere – The perfect car for drivers in search of adventure around town and beyond it.

V60
The Sportswagon That Hauls – For people who need the versatility of a wagon, but want the dynamic handling of a sports sedan.

S80
Make A statement – The S80 sedan offers first class driving at its finest with every well-crafted detail designed to reward.
“Safety is #1”

Continued to be concerned with the approach and pleased with the new design I reached out to Volvo:

Tweet-Volvo-2

And happy to see a wonderful reply within 7(!) minutes:

Tweet-Volvo-1

Tweet-Volvo-3

So what is happening? Apparently something will happen with Safety. Personally I cannot wait to see safety all over the Volvo again to stop draining the brand. Imagine Volvo explaining in detail why each car is the safest in its class… that would be really Volvo!

Go Volvo be Volvo!

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This post is part of three Volvo Positioning articles :
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 (this article)
Reflection as to why successful companies change their positioning

 

Coca-Cola Life: the start of a new life?

Recently a woman was busy handing out green cans in the supermarket. From a distance it looked like the introduction of a new health drink. I got curious! When I got closer I saw that it was nothing less than the introduction of Coca-Cola Life – the Cola with ingredients of natural origin – in the Netherlands.

The pressure on Coca-Cola Company to go along with the trend of natural products requires little explanation. The soft drink category is in decline. At this time, Americans drink about 167 liters of soft drinks per year. This is a sharp decline from the 201 liters per person in 1998. Surprisingly, water once again has become America’s favorite drink. Up to 211 liters per person in 2013, an increase of 38% compared to 1998. At the same time, the worldwide market for organic food and beverages has grown enormously and it is expected that this year the US $ 100 billion limit will be exceeded.

It is therefore crystal clear that Coca-Cola must formulate a response to this trend. Yet, I cannot conclude otherwise that Coca-Cola Company has failed to create a brand-worthy match between the trend and the Coca-Cola brand.

On the trend but not on the brand

Coca-Cola represents energy, refreshment, joy and live positively. It is not about being healthy. To make a brand worthy connection with a trend, Coca-Cola Company must make sure this experience comes back in the answer on the trend. If you launch a new proposition, which Coca-Cola Company does, and then going to call it “Coca-Cola Life is our latest innovation within the Coca-Cola portfolio, sweetened with ingredients from natural origin and contains a third less sugar and calories’ , then you’re well on the trend but not on your brand. This is a missed opportunity.

Be fresh in nature

The brand image of Coca-Cola Life is very green. A green wooden crate with some plants, a few bottles of Life and in the background a haze of green grass. Very nice, but not for Coca-Cola, the brand that just about the real experience of energy, refreshment, joy, enjoy and live positively.

Red is the color of Cola

Coca-Cola Life is green and rationally that is right: green is the color of natural products. Emotionally, however, we know better: red belongs to the Coca-Cola brand experience and the cola category as a whole. Therefore you also find the color red on non Coca-Cola brands. The cans of Pepsi have some red, Walmart’s Sam’s Cola and the Freeway Cola of the German discount store Lidl are red. It seems to me unwise to let go of something so fundamental which is built by investing years in helping consumers making the association. To me, a much more brand-worthy experience would have been a red Coca-Cola Life can with hint of green.

Absolutely nothing beats Life

When a brand has the name Life it suggest that it is also good for your life, especially when it is reinforced by the green color that we all associate with healthy. But where does that leave all the other products? Does it not give an indirect warning to consumers that they are not good for your life?

This makes Coca-Cola ‘Life’ also an outsider in the Coca-Cola portfolio: all other Coca-Cola brands help consumers to make a choice based on taste or lifestyle. Think of Vanilla, Cherry, Zero, Coke and Caffeine-free. ‘Life’ does not help to make a choice on taste or lifestyle. A less comprehensive name that is in line with the brand would have made a better fit.

As a summary: it is great that Coca-Cola Company follows trends and capitalizes on it. Too bad they passed their strong brand totally. But hopefully also for Coca-Cola “Life can be full of surprises’ ….

Brand, follow your heart!

People and companies want to grow. People grow from their core and brands should do the same. 

People and companies want to grow. Growth is progress and ultimately that is what we all want. Yet, it seems that everything which seems so logical with personal growth we often forget when we are engaged in growing brands and the introduction of new propositions. And that’s a shame.

Suppose someone wants to grow from being a physiotherapist into becoming a child physiotherapist, then nobody will be surprised. When the same person would however make a career switch to become a dentist, we all expect a lengthy time consuming process. That time is necessary for the person to learn the new skills and for the environment to place and accept the person in the new role. The more known or famous the person is, the more difficult the transformation will be. The huge disinvestment in existing knowledge and skills are of course accepted. This is all very logical.

When talking about brands and propositions on the other hand, we often think that such a transformation can be made without a fight. Volvo is for example the brand that stands for safety. The brand wants to transform to “the world’s most progressive and luxury car brand”. The change is so enormous that it is actually a divestment of everything the brand has built. The heart of the Volvo brand was safety for a very long time. Is the heart suddenly somewhere else? Of course that is possible, but strangely enough we think inside a company often still too little about this and we start these transformations whether it is business as usual. Often we do this because we think that there a market for it. In those cases you are thinking clearly, but you have unfortunately put your brand heart in the fridge. And with that, of course, the heart of the real Volvo fan.

Now think of Volvo as a good friend whom you give some career advice. After your Volvo friend has told you where the heart will be in the future, would you not have suggested to make a first step with today as a starting point? So, in stead of directly transforming to “luxury car brand” perhaps using safety? Volvo, “the safe luxury car brand”? When you decide with your head that there is a market for something, then try to approach the market from your brand heart. After all, it is not just one person who suddenly wants a different direction in his life. It is a whole system of the brand itself, the staff and the fans of the brand. Be yourself and become better. It is more about depth than taking a completely different starting point. That feels very different. Just like people, brands can deepen. And that is for a brand always better than to start all over and build a new fan base.

Just like how people grow from their core, brands should do the same. This way consumers can continue to link the new direction or new propositions to the expectations they have of the brand. Growth works that way best. A good example is Coca-Cola Zero, which as proposition fully connects with what made Coca-Cola big and famous: the original Coke taste combined with the real feel of the brand Coca-Cola. With Coca-Cola Light this was already the case in terms of taste (opinions about this will vary), but the brand feeling was more skewed to the female side and men did not become fans. Zero provides real Coca-Cola taste and Coca-Cola experience, but without the calories.

The key to brand growth is thus to be yourself and execute that consistently in everything you do, with propositions that meet a customer need and deliver on the brand expectations. In short: use the brand as a compass, keep sailing in the same direction and stay true to your own heart and that of your fans!

This article appeared originally in the Netherlands in Adformatie

Focused brands have the future

A great example of being everything for everyone is Facebook, the world’s second most visited site. How can Facebook’s growth be in trouble? Simply by being everything to everyone.  Within the next few years we will see that Facebook gives up market share to more focused social networks. The trend is already there. The Conversation presented results from a study funded by the European Union on social media. From the study, we learn that for sixteen to eighteen year olds in the UK “Facebook is not only on the slide, but actually dead and buried. Often the youth feels embarrassed to be associated with Facebook.”

The findings are in line with Facebook’s own findings. CFO David Ebersam reported during the presentation of the third quarter results of 2013 “We did see a decrease in daily users partly among younger teens … This is of questionable significance.” Wow. What is happening here?

Nothing to nobody

Facebook is the current leader of the entire social networking category. “Facebook is a social network that brings friends, colleagues, classmates and acquaintances together”. And that is a long-term problem. If you are everything to everybody, you will eventually become nothing to nobody.

It is logical that new social networks that focus on smaller segments or new categories will divide the big Facebook pie. A good example is Pinterest, the social networking site that acts as a bulletin board and has a tremendous growth.

These focused sites attract new users who are not using any social network, but more often users of Facebook. This leads to a smaller group of Facebook users, resulting in content of inferior quality, making the brand less interesting for existing users and more difficult for advertisers to targeted audiences.

Focus

In the long run the market will simply demand a focused approach because the perception of a focused brand is always better than the perception of a comprehensive one.

Just ask yourself these questions:

  • Which brand do you think is better in high end watches, the one only making high end watches or the one making high end watches, jewelry and clothes?
  • Which restaurant brand makes better Thai food? The one preparing Chinese, Japanese and Thai or the one just preparing Thai food?
  • Would you rather have a TV+Bluray+Digibox combo or have it separate?
  • Do you trust the all-around surgeon for an operation or would you rather go with a specialist?

And finally,  which bakery brand bakes better French bread? The bakery called Rezé “Boulangerie Traditionnelle Francaise” or a bakery baking all kinds of breads, including French?

If you are an entrepreneur make sure you are focused enough and associate yourself with one category, not many.

If you are an established business and want to have relevant brands in the future, it is time to make choices about the category in which you are active.  Don’t follow Facebook.

Let’s try some new colors for Santa!

Are you proposing new colors for Santa? Are you serious?
No, I am not proposing new colors for Santa. Consistency in the story, appearance and product has built the very powerful Santa brand. There will be very few people suggesting changes.

Yet, weirdly enough, when dealing with company brands everything seems possible and we seem to forget that consistency really matters. Logos, company slogans, even complete brand identities undergo changes, “updates” or get completely renewed.
While this sometimes makes sense, most of the time it does not. In fact, most changes are made for the wrong reasons.

These are the three top wrong reasons I have come across for making changes to brand identities:

1: The business is not going well
“Let’s refresh the brand to spark more interest” the thinking goes. However, when a company operates in a category that is in decline, refreshing a brand will not help to increase interest. Would it have saved Kodak in film or will it make Dell in computers more interesting?

2: New leadership
New leadership is a great tool to make changes in a company. But only when those changes become real to the outside world, a brand identity update makes sense. Only then there is a possibility for a real impact. The brand refresh at Yahoo was arguably done too early, because the real changes under Marissa Mayer are not yet all that visible.

3: Boredom
Many times people inside the organisation 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.

 

There are four reasons to rightfully make some changes to the brand identity:

1: There is a real change
The brand change can be tied to something that is real for consumers. For example, when a company enters new markets or categories or focuses only on few products or segments. This might have been the reason for Starbucks to remove the text “Starbucks coffee” from their logo as Starbucks is now about more than coffee. Unfortunately, a logo without any text leaves it meaningless for those who do not know Starbucks, but that is a different topic altogether.

2: Big changes inside your category
Sometimes there are big changes inside your category and you want to show to the external world that you are really gearing up to take on the new opportunity. The rebranding of Windows to mark the step to move beyond the PC is a good example.

3: Mergers and takeovers
There is no escape when brands get merged. As portfolios change there are likely going to be some real changes for consumers.

4: The times have changed
Your brand identity is simply outdated or competition has increased and your brand does not stand out anymore. You just need to make some updates. A good example is the logo of Shell. It started out in 1900 as a clamshell in black & white and turned to its current modern shape and form while remaining a clamshell.

 

Whenever you do update your brand, keep in mind that you need to 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, consumers are constantly learning about brands and learning is done best through repetition.

Manage your brand like a band

There is a lot to learn from the music industry. It is a business that has gone through a lot of change ever since it started, yet it has a consistent approach in managing their superstars: the brands of the music industry!

The below lessons can help you to look at your brand differently or give you a different perspective. Have some fun while pretending you are managing your brand as if it were your number one band!

 

Lesson 1: A good story sells
Remember T.A.T.u? Profiled as lesbian singers causing controversy when kissing on a music video. It worked. A lot of press brought T.A.T.u. to the attention of many, resulting in singles and albums that were selling very well.
When it turned out the singers of T.A.T.u. were not lesbian things started to go downhill for the band. A good story sells, but it better be a real one.

Ask yourself: what is the story of your brand? Do you have one? Is it real? Is it personal?

Lesson 2: Never lose focus
Singers and bands all have unique styles. Their styles are their product categories and differentiation. When you hear on the radio your favourite brands, eh bands, you need only a couple of seconds to recognise them! It is the power of brand familiarity.

You will not see successful artists changing styles. Imagine the techno artist moving into classic or the rock band becoming a euro dance band? While many artists could do many different things they have learned that if they become everything to everyone, they will become nothing to no one.
Ask yourself: is your brand focused or does it mean many different things to many different people? Is there an opportunity to focus?

Lesson 3: Grow around your core
Artists grow, they modernise their style, they adapt to society and new trends. Growth is always natural and never radical. Think about Madonna, growing her brand by catching trends and expressing them in her own unique style.

Ask yourself: how has your brand grown? Have you stayed consistent or moved in many different categories? How do your consumers / customers really see you?

Lesson 4: Familiar but new
The music industry is a master in pushing new versions of the same songs. Think about all the special mixes, never heard before versions, live concerts, remixes, remastered versions, versions with booklets, ultimate editions and more.

Even bands that do not exist anymore still keep selling new materials. For example, The Doors released six studio albums, their last official album is from 1971. This does not stop them from pushing out new materials even as recent as last week!

The keyword here is New. After all, people are interested in New and buying New.

Ask yourself: do you clearly market new features or functionalities as New? Are they the main story in your marketing?

Lesson 5: Styles go out of tune
Music styles go out of tune. For example baroque music, once super popular, it is now a real niche. The same is happening to brands. Today’s popular product categories with popular brands will turn – over time – into a niche or simply die. Think MP3 music players, vinyl albums or CDs.

Ask yourself: in what business are you really in?

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

Coca Cola should ride, not fight

Coca-Cola Company feels pressure as the overall soda drink category is in decline. At the moment Americans drink about 167 liter of soda per year. This is a drop from about 201 liter in 1998.

Water has again become America’s favorite drink, with an increase of 38% from 1998 to about 211 liter per person per year in 2013.

At the same time there is a growing pressure to fight obesity. Even so that New York City tried to put a size limit on sugar soda drinks served in the city.
It seems though, that it is not just the sugar soda category that is in decline, it is the diet soda category as well.

To turn the wheel Coca-Cola Company started running an advertisement to defend the use of artificial sweeteners.

The advertisement has the following headline “Quality products you can always feel good about” and then goes on saying “Our use of high-quality, low- and no-calorie sweeteners, including aspartame, allows us to give people great-tasting options they can feel good about”.

Why would Coca-Cola Company defend the use of artificial sweeteners while there is clearly a trend towards natural?

In the US the growth of organic food and beverages has grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. The global alternative medicine sector is expected to reach close to $115 billion by 2015. This is all fuelled by a trend towards herbal and nature-based products.

Coca-Cola Company should see this trend as an opportunity and not fight it. After all, when consumers see an advertisement defending ingredients in products it can be interpreted as coming from somebody trying to ‘prove them wrong’. Especially since the perceived honesty and ethics standards of advertising practitioners are very low. In the US they are just above the bottom two: members of congress and car salespeople.

Instead, Coca-Cola Company should ride the trend and grasp the opportunities now before somebody else will.

First, Coca-Cola Company can position Coca-Cola as the number one brand in All Natural Cola: a Cola truly made of 100% natural ingredients, no chemicals, nothing, just natural.

Second, Coca-Cola Company should consider introducing the natural Stevia sweetener in Cola products. It recently started doing that in some countries with Sprite.

The tough question to answer is: will it keep using sugar in its normal Coca-Cola and use Stevia only in the diet/light variants or will it go the full way and kill the diet/light products all together?

Either way, the soda business is up for a change, a change towards becoming more natural.

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

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

Marimekko, do not buy the rights!

After Kristina Isola acknowledged the plagiarism of a design, it has been very interesting to see the various reactions of Marimekko, media, marketing and branding professionals. However, the most important and defining factor for the Marimekko brand going forward has been left out: managing the associations that consumers have with the brand Marimekko.

In the end, brands are merely associations in the minds of consumers. For example, Coca-Cola is associated with the real Cola drink and Snickers is associated with a peanut candy bar. Brand associations are very difficult to change. That is, until something disastrous happens and the brand owner does not deal with it properly. We have seen that happening to BP after the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. The share price has still not recovered.

For Marimekko, the most important thing should be to ensure that consumers do not change their brand association. For example, if a consumer believed before that Marimekko equals “iconic Finnish fabric design”, Marimekko should do everything it can to avoid a change of association to “iconic Finnish fabric design and possible copies”.

The decision of the company to buy the rights to designs of Maria Pryimachenko will only give more opportunities for consumers to change the brand association. Why? Because it allows the discussion to continue and most importantly, it gives a constant physical reminder of the copy scandal. The continuous opportunity for consumers to change their brand associations is very harmful and can even be fatal for a brand.

If you are convinced that buying the rights to the designs of Maria Pryimachenko is the best thing to do, I invite you to go to a Marimekko shop and imagine you see those designs. Then be really honest with yourself: what do you think and feel about Marimekko? Has it changed? How?

What could Marimekko have done to ensure that consumers would have little opportunity to change their brand associations? They should have started with a different outcome in mind: a zero change in the brand association. As a result, the company should have been very firm and confident with consumers and media.

Don’t fight the facts, but deal with them. Don’t wait and see, but act. Don’t blame, don’t dismiss but take full responsibility and publicly end the relationship with Kristina Isola. By not distancing itself strongly from her, Marimekko indirectly indicates that ‘it is not a big deal’. From the moment this crisis started Marimekko should have followed its corporate value “fairness to everyone and everything” and actively reached out to the copyright holders.

When all of the above happens in an open and transparent way, a way that consumers can come to terms with and think ‘I understand and I would have done that too’, the brand is OK and brand associations have little opportunity to change.

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