Category Archives: Brand Promise

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 understands how to (not) do discounts

Black Friday is the day many brands offer discounts. Strong brands, like Apple, never discount the core products.

For companies, sales discounts are a great way to boost short- term sales. It is an approach with guaranteed success. Even people who do not need the product right away might buy because of the great discount. Like with everything, there is a flip side to discounts.

1. Postponing purchases
Consider carefully discounts for products that are not fast- moving consumer goods but substantial investments for consumers. Consumers can often wait to make the purchase when it is not highly necessary. It is not uncommon for people to sleep on the old bed a few months longer and wait for a good discount.

2. Creation of artificial purchase cycles
Some companies run discounts during specific times of the year. When consumers know about the cycle, they will wait for the following discount round. The brand has unwillingly created an artificial purchase cycle.

FujiFilm is a company with artificial purchase cycles. The company runs pretty steep discounts on its cameras and lenses in spring, summer, and winter. People who are in the FujiFilm camp make purchase decisions three times per year. If the desired products are not on sale in the current round, chances are the dream kit will show up in the next round.

3. Abandonment of retail prices
Discounts reduce the suggested retail sales prices of products in the mind of the consumer. Once buyers have seen a printer in a special offer for US$69, they won’t pay the US$99 suggested retail price ever again. Getting the product cheaper has now become a real possibility. The discount helped the short-term sales but made the brand and product positioning weaker.

 

The alternative to discounts
The best alternative to discounts is to provide perks around the core product. For example, a brand known for its leading Music composition software should not discount the core product, the What of the brand. Instead, it should provide extra perks around the core product like giving a plug-in or sound bank for free.

Apple follows this strategy. The company hardly ever gives direct discounts but turns discounts into Apple Gift cards. Of course, the Gift Cards are to be used in the Apple Stores.

Perks are a great way to give people ‘a good deal’ while in their minds, the value perception of the core product has not changed.

——
This post is taken from my new book Win With What – the first category-led growth book.

Credibility is lost when you do not live up to what you stand for

When you repeatedly go against your mission and values, you lose credibility, and your position is in danger. The audience will start to drift – first, slowly towards other platforms. Drifting will accelerate once a critical mass through worth of mouth is reached. Then there is no way back. 

Brands are like people.

If you for example do not like how a friend behaves, you can simply decide to no longer hang out with your friend. The same goes for brands. If a brand behaves terribly, you can decide to stop engaging, buying, or using that particular brand.

It gets tricky when your friend says that living according to noble values is essential and even points the noble way of living out to others. It comes then as an unpleasant surprise when you learn that your friend is everything but living up those dearly hold and communicated values. We get confused because the friend’s behavior does not match the perception we have about the person. The person is no longer credible.  If the friendship continues, it will be an unhealthy one based on disbelief and issues with trust. If a brand stops living the values, the same reaction of disbelief and distrust appears. And over time, we will look for alternatives.

Today I encountered a trust issue with YouTube, the brand that has brought video sharing to the masses. YouTube helped to accelerate the growth of humans by bringing immense knowledge to the fingertips of everyone.

Already for some time, YouTube is actively censoring freedom of speech by removing videos or channels about medical information, science, scientists, specific news channels, or simply videos containing an opinion (how scientific it might be) that is going against a set of guidelines, therefore stopping the debate and opportunity for humans to learn.

Earlier this morning, I decided to take a look at the About YouTube page (link, archive ) to understand what the company is all about and the brand credibility with me.

The first thing you encounter on the about page is a clear mission statement. Unfortunately, YouTube is actually actively going against their own mission. For YouTube not everyone is the same, some deserve to  have a voice, while others unfortunately do not.

When we look at the values we see a similar pattern.

The Freedom of Expression is striking:

We believe people should be able to speak freely, share opinions, foster open dialogue, and that creative freedom leads to new voices, formats and possibilities.

If YouTube in the last year has shown one thing it is that it is not a real advocate of Freedom of Expression.

I have therefore one simple question for YouTube:

—-
Dear YouTube,

You have given me a lot of opportunities to enrich my knowledge on virtually any topic. I thank you for that.

Unfortunately, I am distrusting you and as your friend I see two options going forward:

  1. You live up to your values,
  2. You update the values to reflect your behaviour.

Either way is acceptable because strong brands provide clarity regarding what they stand for and consistency in execution using company values as a steering compass. Only this way, they remain credible.

Make your choice.

—-

Photo by Adam Fejes from Pexels

Strong brands do not need discounts

The impact of discounting products on the short and long term. 

The Black Friday & Cyber Monday sales are almost over. Consumers who got some deals are happy, and so are businesses. 

For companies, sales discounts are a great way to boost short term sales. It is an approach with guaranteed success. If you want to increase the sales bonus, then start offering discounts! When your product is in demand, you will notice that even people who do not need it right away might buy it because of the deal. 

Like with everything, there is a flip-side to the discount deals craziness – I like to call them deal traps, and here they are:

Postponed purchases of higher value items in general

If your product is NOT a fast-moving consumer product but a substantial investment for consumers, you must consider any possible discount you are providing. Imagine if I am in the market for an expensive bed, I could easily wait till Black Friday to purchase if it saves me 30% of the new price. Believe it or not… people are willing to wait till the next round of discounts. And at the same time, they do know the room to negotiate.   

Artificial purchase cycles, esp with higher value items 

A great example of this discounting is FujiFilm. In Spring, Summer, and Winter, they run pretty steep discounts on cameras and lenses. Now how often do people buy cameras and lenses? If you are in the Fuji camp, you should make your purchase three times per year! And what happens when a camera or lens is you like to purchase is not on sale? Then wait -if you can- till the next seasonal offers. Changes are your dream kit will show up at some point. 

Suggested retail prices do no longer exist.

Discounts reduce the suggested retail sales prices of the products in the mind of the consumer. Once you have seen a printer in a special offer for 69EUR, you won’t pay that 99EUR suggested retail ever again. Perception is why strong brands never engage in discounts – because discounts perceptually make the brand and product positioning weaker. 

Apple only recently engages in discounts, but they are never direct discounts – always in Apple Gift cards, to be used in the Apple Stores. You pay the full price and get rewarded with Gift cards. This way, the value perception of the product in the mind of the buyer won’t change.

So, what is the alternative to consider?

Never discount your core product but provide perks around it. For example, if your business is, let’s say, Music composition software, then never create a deal on the software. Instead, provide perks and packages of items people get when they buy the software. For example: buy the software get a plugin for six months for free. 

Whatever you do, keep in mind that strong brands never do discounts and never need to do discounts. 

 

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. 

Be decent

People perceive their favorite brands as trusted friends and react accordingly when a brand falls short of their expectations or promises. Think of a brand as a decent human being and act like one.

Here in the Netherlands one of the biggest banks has an issue with decency. Now for months, we hear ‘how Rabobank is growing a better world together’. Rabobank even announced a three-year programme to kick-start the transition to a more sustainable food and agricultural sector.

Perhaps unfortunately for Rabobank, two things have happened in society:

  1. People are in general more suspicious about what big companies are saying and especially in the banking industry.
  2. As Rabobank correctly has identified, sustainable food and agriculture have become more and more critical to choices people make.

The more relevant and important your brand or cause is to people, the more your actions will get noticed – and get reactions.

It took only a little bit of time for people to figure out where Rabobank invests. Turns out ‘6.8 out of the 8.8 billion that Dutch banks invest in ‘very animal-unfriendly meat industry’ comes from the bank that advocates a ‘better world.’

In our connected world, both positive and negative messages distribute faster and wider than ever before. As a result, the Dutch now know that the Rabobank is not what they advocate. They also know it is not only the Rabobank that has this issue, but many more banks – there are only a few without issues.

Suddenly consumers are getting aware of a new category in banking – ‘the animal friendly banks,’ opening the doors for the real sustainable banking brands who smartly so jump on the wagon and educate consumers about the wrong investments traditional banks make.

And how is the Rabobank responding? Just as how people expect from the big institutions: without taking real responsibility. Rabobank does not think of their brand as a decent human being and does not act like one. Only when a brand does, people will acknowledge the mistake and might forgive you for it.

Netflix buys DVD.com, what’s next in the branding saga?

Netflix, once known as one of the most successful dot-com startups is going through a rough time with some serious branding mistakes. Today I read on engadget.com that Netflix bought DVD.com… why would they do that?

Seven years ago the world looked great for Netflix. In 2005 it was shipping 1 Million DVDs per day to its subscribers. Wow! Netflix had an amazing position: it simply was #1 in the DVD rental. Netflix was nicely riding on the DVD player sales. There was one problem though… the DVD player was eventually going to be replaced by digital distribution.

The Netflix folks saw that coming and in 2007 they introduced streaming under the same Netflix brand. The service became successful but times changed and in Q3 2011 Netflix lost 800.000 subscribers.

The Netflix folks saw that one coming too and decided that the strong brand Netflix should live on in the streaming business, making place for a new brand called Qwikster for the DVD rental business. A couple of months later the idea was buried.

Or… was it? Netflix has now bought DVD.com. I am sure one of the ideas of the folks at Netflix is to use that for the rental business, moving Netflix over to the streaming business forever.

Now… what is going on here? Is this really the smartest move? No it is not!

Firstly, Netflix should have retained the Netflix brand for the DVD rental business only. The brand was the number one in the category. Even though the category is dying (and with that the brand) it would have been the best thing.

Secondly, for the streaming business a second brand would have been appropriate. It is a substantial new business / category in which the company could have been number one again. This brand should have been positioned as the streaming service.

Thirdly, buying a generic domain “DVD.com” is really a waste of money. Consumers are not thinking “I’d like to rent a DVD so I go to DVD.com”,  they think “I’d like to rent a DVD so I go to Netflix.com”. The DVD.com “brand” is a waste of money.