Category Archives: Portfolio

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.  

Mercedes-Benz Perfumes: wanna buy one?

Mercedes-Benz Perfumes was launched in 2012 as “the new star of the perfume world”. Ten years later, the product line is still around.  

The Mercedes-Benz Perfumes product line is according to Mercedes-Benz an obvious product range expansion because defined style and exquisite design are central to Mercedes-Benz as a leader within the design industry worldwide.

Design and style are not only essential ingredients for the world of luxury cars, it is a natural step to extend this expertise into other luxury categories.”

Creating luxury products beyond the cars has been a natural evolution, starting with Mercedes-Benz eyewear, leather accessories and other luxury goods. In recent years, the brand has naturally gained visibility and credibility in the most exciting, joyful and vibrant industry: fashion.

 

The Mercedes-Benz Perfumes are available for Him, Her and Home.  The parfum product line follows eyewear, leather accessories and other “luxury goods”.

The idea behind launching all these extensions is of course  that Mercedes-Benz owners would finally have an all-encompassing Mercedes-Benz lifestyle. Drink coffee in a Mercedes-Benz cup, spray some Mercedes-Benz perfume, leave home in a Mercedes-Benz Bodywarmer, drive in the Mercedes-Benz, call with an iPhone covered in a nice Mercedes-Benz cover and when it rains use the Mercedes-Benz umbrella. This is the Mercedes-Benz life.

The question is who is living the encompassing Mercedes-Benz brand life?  And who wants to live life like this?

Still the Instagram account of the Mercedes Benz Parfums has 46.8K followers, not a lot compared to the fashion brands. The Facebook page has 1.36M followers and almost the same amount of likes.

Mercedes-Benz in a tax free shop

I cannot help thinking that this conversation feels weird for anyone linking the brand Mercedes-Benz with cars “Hey want kind of perfume are you wearing?” “Mercedes-Benz”.

And the reaction to the above question is the key to success: when buyers have a strong connection with the Mercedes Benz brand as a car, it will be much harder to accept the brand in another category. When there is no strong connection, the brand can be accepted in parfums.  

An example of a brand like in the case of Caterpillar, the brand for tough equipment and shoes.

Most Cat work boots buyers are not Caterpillar equipment users. They might not even know at all that Caterpillar is heavy duty trucks. And when buyers somehow know that the brand has something to do with toughness then that is exactly the right connotation. On top of that: Caterpillar did something smart to distinct: in work boots the brand uses a different logo “Cat”.

Being successful in multiple categories with the same or similar brand is a careful balance of managing buyer perception. Usually this is easier and much more successful when the categories are perceived to be more distant, like in the Caterpillar case.

 

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.

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.

 

Mercedes-Benz transitioning to electric

Mercedes-Benz moves into electric using the ‘half-pregnant’ EQ sub-brand approach. The company misses  the point that buyers first and foremost need portfolio clarity.

Whenever there are ground-breaking developments, the incumbent businesses need to watch out. Category shifting breakthroughs are most of the time developed by new companies. They can be so impactful that complete new categories are established and make today’s brands look old and obsolete. Bad news for existing brands!

In the past, we saw it was Nokia versus iPhone, and today it is in the car business Tesla versus the rest. It was not Mercedes-Benz who established the new electric car category globally – it was Tesla. Interestingly, it was Karl Benz who invented the first gas-powered automobile already in 1886. Quite a few years later, in 1901, the Daimler Motors Corporation began selling cars.

Often when a category shift happens, and your brand represents or is a significant player in the old category, the brand will eventually follow the faith of the category. As a brand owner, you need to do everything you can to prevent a downfall.

At Mercedes-Benz, they saw the change to electric coming as well. The company was clearly not ready, and it took time to adapt. For the company, it was vital to continue selling the old gasoline cars to not go out of business. The ‘half pregnant’ business strategy translates directly to the product portfolio strategy. The current Mercedes-Benz portfolio visualizes a company in transition, and it is far from the Mercedez-Benz slogan “The Best or Nothing.”

Look at the entire portfolio as presented on https://www.mercedes-benz.com/en/ and ask yourself:

    • what is the car type? (small family, business, SUV, etc.)
    • what is the ranking of the car inside the overall portfolio (good, better, best)
    • what are the electric cars
    • what do all the letters and combinations of letters mean?

None of it is clear.

Unclear portfolio

 

To make things worse, Mercedes-Benz applied a strange form of sub & endorsed branding with the electric range.

Headlines in car magazines said “Mercedes-Benz’s EQ Sub-Brand Aims to Launch a New Electric Model Every Year” (Car and Driver in 2016) or just as recently as 14 Oct 2021 “Mercedes EQ subbrand to launch in U.S. with electric variant of S-Class sedan” (Automotive News).

What happened at the marketing department at the Mercedes-Benz headquarters? A sub-brand, really? Master-brands and sub-brands are all marketing talk, and they do not exist in the buyer’s mind. People are not shopping for sub-brands or master-brands. They shop for brands and might look for a product within a range.

The basic rule is that people think and buy in the following order:

Brand -> Product range -> Model
not Brand –> Brand -> Product range or Model

It is Mercedes-Benz (brand) -> EQ (range) -> Model
and not ‘Model by Range’ as the Mercedes-Benz Me Lifestyle magazine wants the reader to believe.

So what could Mercedes-Benz have done differently? There would have been two ways to transition the company Mercedes-Benz into the new category or electric.

 

1. Conquer and Switch
The  Geely Holding /  Volvo Corporation strategy. The company repurposed the Polestar brand for just electric cars to compete (conquer) in the electric car segment, while Volvo can switch to electric at its own pace.  For the Mercedes-Benz Company, a new brand (not EQ!) would take on electric while Mercedes-Benz could transition at its own pace.

 

2. Fix the portfolio outside-in and Switch
Let’s face it; the current portfolio is a complete mess with cars inside and outside classes (ranges). This does not help navigate the portfolio and  does not help buyers  relate or understand the order in the portfolio.

Mercedes-Benz should first create ranges that make sense to the buyer or already have meaning, like the A, B, C, G, M, S and V class ranges.  Then slot all cars inside the ranges. No exceptions.

The GLB would move into the G class, and so would the electric EQB. To create clarity, the car model would be renamed GLB EQ.

Then the brand can Switch at its own pace into electric, eventually letting go of all the gasoline models.

Inside-out portfolio

 

Outside-in portfolio

Mercedes-Benz in executing a Switch strategy without clarifying the portfolio to buyers. At this stage option 2 is  the  route to go. Does it come without risk?  Not at all.  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 the technology over the Mercedes-Benz EQC. Internally there will be a division between those who work on the cool new models and those who need to maintain the old – till the last old gasoline car is sold.

Generally the Conquer strategy is the safest and cleanest route to execute company transition into electric.  The Switch strategy involves  perception risks and can be complicated to execute internally.

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.

Volvo Corporation attacks electric with the Polestar brand

The car category is already for some time in turmoil because of the change to electric. On top of that, in the conventional car category the Volvo brand is struggling because of changes in positioning. The owner of Volvo Corporation, Geely Holding has determined that Polestar will be the brand to compete in electric. Is it the right move?

The change to electric genuine for car owners and drivers as they need to change the way they think about driving and “refueling” cars. Consumers experience, therefore, electric cars as a different category. There are conventional cars, and then there are electric cars – both require a different way to interact with driving and moving you from A to B.

When something so impactful happens in any category, we will likely experience a change of brands. There will be brands that only focus on the “new” electric category. There will be existing brands trying to extend from conventional to the electric category. When a category changes so profound, some of the car brands of today will need to make space for the electric car brands of tomorrow.

The impact to the current brand owners has everything to do with whether the existing car brands can compete with electric cars – at least on a level to be on par with the perceived leader in the category. In other words, if you are in the market for an electric luxury SUV, then it is easy to go for the Tesla Model X because the perception is that it is the best in electric and in-car technology. The Mercedes-Benz EQC would come close, but it needs to deliver more to change the perception of Mercedes-Benz and that of the perceived leader Tesla.

Volvo is executing two different strategies to conquer the electric car category. First, the company is moving the brand Volvo from a conventional to an electric car brand. At the same time, Volvo Corporation is following a conquer strategy with their new brand Polestar. Polestar is a standalone brand to focuses on electric cars.

The Polestar brand is not new to Volvo. It used the brand in the past for Performance upgrades of their vehicles. The real Volvo enthusiasts will know the brand with the desired perception of performance, technical advancements, etc. Unless you are a Volvo enthusiast, the Polestar brand will be new. As a bonus, the Polestar name has a nice Nordic / Scandinavian ring to it. Volvo bought Polestar in 2015. In 2017 Volvo Cars and their owner Geely Holding announced that Polestar would become a standalone to focus on electric cars.

Applying the earlier discussed Flip-test would indicate that Geely Holding made the right call to bet on two horses.

When we apply the Flip-test:

Current: Volvo gasoline cars
Extension: Volvo electric cars

Flip it!

Current: Tesla electric cars
Extension: Tesla gasoline cars

Does it make sense? Perhaps not so much. Geely Holding does the right thing to compete in electric with the new brand Polestar while not giving up on Volvo. It would be a shame if the Volvo brand will not make the transition to electric in the minds of buyers. The success of making the transition will depend on the number of cars at different price points from new electric car brands.

Personally I am very happy to see Volvo to take action. The brand has been in turmoil for years. I have written about Volvo in the  Volvo Positioning series Part 1Part 2Part 3  and a Reflection why successful companies change their positioning.

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!