Category Archives: Positioning

Why some companies change a successful brand positioning

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Leuchtturm – what an experience!

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

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

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

 

 

1. Heritage

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

 

2. Details make all the difference

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

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

 

3. Focus

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

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

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

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

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

Will the biggest change for Diet Coke in 35 years make a difference or is it lipstick on a pig?

A very exciting start of 2018 for Coca-Cola Company in America: the successful Coke Diet brand is renewed after 35(!) years.

Coca-Cola Company calls it a relaunch of the brand. The cans are smaller, have a fresh new design, and there are four extra flavors.

The renewal and modernization of the Diet Coke brand is done to attract a new generation of drinkers and offers millions of current fans a new look and more flavors.

Rafael Acevedo, the North America group director for Diet Coke, further explains that “we’re modernizing what has made Diet Coke so special for a new generation. The same unapologetic confidence still comes through, and the same great Diet Coke taste people love is here to stay, but we’re making the brand more relatable and more authentic.”

A two-year study has shown that younger Americans have an affinity for “big, yet refreshing and great-tasting flavors” in their favorite foods and beverages – from hoppy craft beers to spicy sauces.

So far everything goes according to the plan. Coca-Cola Company sees an opportunity to increase their share in the category of diet cola: welcoming new drinkers with new flavors and getting current drinkers to try new flavors.

The problem, however, is that whole soda category in America is in decline for the last 12 years. In 2017 the sales were similar to 1985 (!). These days, consumers know better: sugar is not good for you. This insight causes the whole category to decline.

You would think the war against sugar would give the sales of diet products a push – the fewer calories, the better – but it is not happening. Why? Consumers are getting more and more skeptical about artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame. In fact, the skepticism is so bad, that currently, the high-sugar variants of Coca-Cola and Pepsi the number 1 and 2 most sold cola products.

It did not help that Coca-Cola in 2012 began to defend the use of sweeteners in newspapers. This way you achieve exactly the opposite effect: consumers will trust you even less.

And it becomes tough when your biggest competitor starts to make a point in advertising and on the can that aspartame is excluded from their Diet line.

Consumers move to other categories of drinks and the big winners in the fight for healthy drinks are not the Diet brands, but the water brands, including Dasani, a brand of Coca-Cola Company.

I expect that the new design and the new flavors will undoubtedly benefit the Diet Coke brand in the short term. However, in the long term it is “lipstick on a pig”. The trend against unnatural has started, and not just in the soft drink category. Also in the food category the organic market in America has grown from 1B USD in 1990 to 40B USD in 2017. This is a trend that will affect many categories.

In a declining category, a brand has to take what it can take while the category is still selling, but as a company, you will have to focus on new categories. And this is what Coca-Cola Company does very well, as we see with their new brand for ice tea: Fuze Tea, but more initiatives are needed to get back in growth mode.

Presidential Brand Battle – 6 reasons why Trump will win

This Presidential campaign in the USA  is -to say the least- very interesting. I do not think ever before we have seen candidates that are both disliked by so many people. Yet, the simple fact is that regardless all of that only one will win.

I lived in the USA when Obama won his first election. Ever since I have followed closely every election. In February I concluded that we could be looking at Bernie Sanders and Trump for president. I was partly right (depending on the various views on what actually happened inside the Democratic Party election process).

Now, roughly a month before the election I look at both candidates through brand glasses and predict that -perhaps against all odds- Donald Trump will become the new president of the United States.

Here are 6 reasons why Trump will win the election:

1. NEW over DIFFERENT

People are not interested in what is different, they are interested in what is NEW. When a new iPhone has launched the headlines are all about the new features, hardly ever about what is different.

Similarly in politics. Obama won in 2008 with the one-word slogan “Change”. Change from the old, a promise of something new.

Today Trump represents the NEW – he distances himself from the establishment and has a new approach to the campaign. On the other hand, Hillary represents DIFFERENT, she is a different representation of the current political landscape.

 

2. POWERFUL SLOGAN

Trump clearly has the better slogan “Make America Great Again”. Whether you are as a voter in the Hillary or Trump camp – it is hard to argue with the intention – who wouldn’t want to make America great (again)? And for those who remember, the slogan is a more active version of the Reagan slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again”. Indirectly giving the message that it can be done, just like how Reagan did it in the eighties.

Clinton, on the other hand, has had weak slogans. First, there were the self-centered “Hillary for America” and “I’m With Her” slogan. Followed by the current “Stronger Together” slogan. This slogan is very controversial after the scandals with her private e-mail server, mixed interests of the Clinton Foundation or calling out Trump supporters as “deplorables” and Sanders supporters as “basement dwellers”.

 

3. THE BETTER NAME 

All successful products start with a good name. It is the foundation of your marketing. The name “Clinton” has a lot of history.  While both positive and negative it simply cannot be avoided. People have a perception of the name “Clinton” in politics and perceptions are hard to change.

On the other hand the name Trump has a history as well. Yet, there are no established perceptions of the name in the context of politics.

 

4. MORE (FREE) PR, MORE ENGAGEMENT

When looking at Google trends, social media and the established media it is clear that Trump has the lead in engagement. Of course, not all is positive but that is ok. In many ways, the established media is handing the benefit of the doubt unwillingly to Trump. They help to build the brand as reverse psychology will come to play. With all the negative press voters will ask themselves “If this guy is so bad, why is everybody then writing about him?” or “Is there nothing bad about Hillary ?”

 

5. LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE GRABBING THE WALLET

The Reuters headline “Trump scores with small money, lags with big donors” tells it all: there is a different type of support for Trump. These are not the few big cooperations or hedge funds, but the average American willing to invest in the brand. This is key as these people have shown their support by grabbing their wallets.

If played well these supports can over the next weeks amplify the Trump brand. After all, they have invested in the brand and will talk about it. In conversations, we trust a human to human recommendation over any marketing message.

 

6. CLEAR FOCUS

For any brand a clear focus is crucial. Brand supports must be able to tell what the brand is about and where it stands for.  Trump has picked topics and over the campaign has stuck to them. The topics do raise debate fueling the brand engagement. Hillary does not seem to focus on one topic and her topics do not raise the same amount of brand engagement.  Great brands know that in the mind of the consumer a brand that does just one thing really well is more credible than a brand that does everything.

 

LOOKING FORWARD TO 2020

Regardless the outcome on November 8 this presidential campaign has proven to be one of its kind. And who knows, perhaps it has set a bigger change in motion. A change that gives the Independent Candidate a shot to the presidency in 2020! Now that would be a change!

Published on Oct 5 2016

Volvo – Keep your brand focus on safety or be toast – Part II

About 3 years ago I wrote how Volvo is turning from a school book example of brand building into one that is about destroying the brand.

Volvo is of course historically known for “safety”. Around 2011 it lost that edge in marketing with campaigns featuring for example the “All-New Naughty Volvo S60”.  Safety features and innovations were not brought to the attention of the public. In fact, Safety all together was put on the back burner and replaced by the new key selling points Performance and Luxury.

The real problem with this approach was that Volvo gave up the best positioning in the industry: after all, which car brand would not want to be perceived as the safest car?

Brands that go out of focus usually go out of focus in sales as well.  In 2006 Volvo sold 427.747 cars worldwide. In 2013 it sold almost the same, 427.840 cars. Indeed, zero growth over 8 years. This happened all at a time when markets like China continued to boom and last year also for Volvo. Still, Volvo sales in the USA are so bad that already in 2012 the WSJ Market Watch  suggested that Volvo might as well exit the market.

AdAge calls it an identity crisis.  A commenter quoted in the article says “Volvo used to be all about safety and long-term durability. But [now] everybody has safety. Many companies have more safety features than Volvo does, so they can’t own that anymore”.

Of course, all cars are safe and these days some cars might indeed be safer, but only one can be perceived the safest. Volvo stopped reminding consumers it was in fact the safest car on the planet. When you stop reminding consumers about your positioning you will slowly start losing it.

Just think for a minute that Volvo would have in fact continued the crash test advertising from the mid 1980s and put all of its innovation resources to safety. Introducing new safety features, setting the safety bar for the car industry higher every year… and reminding consumers that Safety = Volvo and Volvo = Safety.  Continuous reinforcement would have helped Volvo to be still today perceived as the safest car in the world.

Instead of drumming the safety message, in 2011 Volvo talked about “Naughty Cars”

And when that did not work out, in 2012 it moved from being naughty to cars “designed around you”

And fine-tuned in 2013 to “designed for real people”.

Here is a transcript of the voiceover: “A Volvo isn’t for everyone and we kind-a-like it that way. The Volvo XC60, designed for real people, designed around you”.

So what is Volvo in plain consumer language, max three words? It is hard, isn’t it?

Volvo is so desperately trying to be a brand that it is not. You cannot be Audi, you cannot be the brand for people who cannot afford Mercedes-Benz, you cannot indirectly say that Mercedes-Benz drivers are “unreal people”.  Everybody knows they are not. In fact, Mercedes-Benz has its own list of very impressive safety innovations. They have just not activated it in marketing. They could easily launch a counter campaign targeting women with a focus on safety and beat Volvo.

What should Volvo do? Continue to reinforce what consumers still might believe or want to believe Volvo is! My suggestion: revert as soon as possible back to “the world’s safest car”, continue to innovate in safety and talk about it… loudly! There is not too much time left before the brand will turn completely meaningless.

Volvo: keep your brand focus on safety or be toast!

In every brand book or brand program  there is usually the example of Volvo, the brand that has positioned itself in the car category synonymously with the word “safety”. Unfortunately, unless Volvo changes its current course this good example will turn in an example how to destroy a unique brand position.

Let me explain…

About two years ago everything was still very much on brand positioning. Take a look at the screenshot below taken from volvocars.com/us. It shows the Volvo S80 page with the key sections: Safety, Design, Performance, Environment. Yes! Safety FIRST, of course and exactly what everybody expects from Volvo! Design is obviously second. A car designed in Sweden does bring magic! Both safety and designed in Sweden are great differentiators! Performance third, it simply cannot be first because nothing can jeopardize safety. Finally the environment: Volvo is a good citizen. Everything simply makes sense!

When clicking on the Safety section it will give you all the details you need to know in order to believe that Volvo is the safest car on the planet! The above navigation structure was very consistent implemented with all Volvo models, below an example of the XC90 Safety section.

Now fast forward to 2011… and a lot of brand building has been destroyed.

Look at that same S80 web page:

That’s right! Safety has now moved to the 4th place of the “5 things to know” about the S80. Also note that it is not anymore just “Safety” but “Safety innovations”. Why is that? Would I not expect the safest car brand to innovate by default? Why would Volvo want to stop owning that one word “safety” and make it “safety innovations”?

The list of “5 things to know” consists of:  1. Sleek exterior design, 2. Interior Luxury, 3. T6 AWD Engine, 4. Safety innovations, 5. World class entertainment. Wow… It feels I am looking at audi.com…

If this was not enough Volvo is happily positioning itself away even further from Safety by introducing the concept of Naughty cars. Just check the Volvo S60 pages and you will find out that the Volvo S60 is everywhere named as the “All-New Naughty Volvo S60”. Wow! What happened at Volvo headquarters?

Naughty Volvo? What is that all about?
It obviously should look like this! Volvo = safety!

Volvo this is really bad… you really had the best position in the car category, who after all does not want a safe car? Now you give your positioning away by trying to be Audi. Your consumers will not understand because to them you always will be the brand that is about safety. That is, till you proof them wrong a little too long trying to be somebody you are not. Please change or you will be toast.

Continue reading part II, written three years later.

Volvo, Abba, Ikea and no more Saab

Classic-Saab“Differentiate or die”… it cannot be more true for Saab.

A brand loved for what it was is sadly gone. After GM took over Saab was never really able to get back to its roots in terms of design and differentiation.

GM forced Saab to be part of the GM family. Saab cars started to be build using the same platforms as the other brands in the GM family. That was the beginning of the end. No more differentiation, no more ‘weird’ design elements, no more standing out from the competition and eventually no more Saab.