Category Archives: Brand Promise

Apple understands how to do (not) 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.

 

Coca Cola: how do you get me hooked again?

About 4 months ago I decided to stop drinking coffee and Coca Cola. I was really drinking a lot of both every day. At the same time I stopped eating candies and reduced all my food intake after 8PM in the evening. All this had a great effect on my wellbeing: I lost a bit of weight and at the same time started to feel better and better.

My wife however is drinking some Coca Cola still and once in a while during these past 4 months I am taking a little sip, just to see how I react and curious about the taste.

Here is a funny thing: I find that the taste of Cola turned into something completely not desirable… I don’t even like it anymore, isn’t that weird? Remember: I was a real Coca Cola drinker! The first time it happened I thought that it is my mind trying to resist the addiction. I was wrong: it happens every time I try a sip.

Another interesting observation is that I cannot recall the taste of Coca Cola, isn’t that weird? I can easily recall the taste of Fanta, 7up and many other soft drinks, just not Coca Cola.

So, here is what I am thinking: the Coca Cola Company must have done some research in understanding people like me and how to get them hooked again. I simply do not belief that the brand image and brand desire of Coca Cola is made up from the feeling you get when consuming Coca Cola, or could it be?

Curious to read your views!

Amazon.com: what happened to the promise of Earth’s Biggest?

Back in the days the promise of Amazon was “Earth’s biggest bookstore”. How easy to believe! Millions of books at a good price with a brand named after another earth’s biggest.

Remember?

Then Amazon moved on from just books to CDs/DVDs/Games. In my view all still very logic and Amazon executed the right strategy to stay “Earth’s Biggest” in these categories. How? By being The Biggest.

It did not stop there, Amazon expanded further, according to their website “today, Amazon offers everything from books and electronics to tennis rackets and diamond jewelry.” Still, this enormous expansion works. When living in New York City we “amazoned” pretty much everything. Amazon became “Earth’s Biggest Retailer“. This positioning was supported with help of “Amazon Prime”: free 2 day shipping for a yearly fixed fee that tremendously helped taking away the two headaches of internet shopping: delivery fees and delivery time.

At the moment Amazon has expanded even further. This time however the expansion goes beyond the Retail category. This expansion is where future problems for Amazon will come in.

 

The Amazon.com shopping experience is now split in “Digital” and “Physical”. In other words: the line extension split is made very explicit to consumers. Why will this not work in the long run?

Firstly, Amazon has expanded the brand from retail to digital media consumption. As we know expanding brands in new categories include a risk: consumers can get confused with your current position. Why risk it? Fast forward a couple of years and think about what consumers would answer to the question “What is Amazon in one word?”: is it web shopping, cloud storage, a sort of Netflix or still the best place to buy products online?

Secondly, this move endangers Amazons current positioning of Earths Biggest in physical goods, a position they should simply not give up!  There is plenty of competition that has a very reduced scope and focus, such as The Book Depository. Book Depository sells well… books (and only books) but differentiates with free worldwide shipping. Since we live in Finland it has become my number one go to book site. So Amazon will  need to improve in all the sub categories of the products they are selling to stay Earths Biggest.

Thirdly, in “Digital” goods Amazon is far from being Earths Biggest, and even if Amazon would be in terms of numbers they are not in consumer’s mind. In this space there is lots of existing and established competition.

The option I would have recommended to Amazon is to strongly consider launching a new brand, let’s say Everest. Amazon did it right with Kindle. Calling the current Kindle product the “Amazon reader” would have been a disaster. Think about it… would a consumer go to a shop to buy an Amazon? No, they wouldn’t, but they do go to the shop for a Kindle. And it pretty successful: Kindle is now synonymous with e-books/ digital reading.

Everest would on one hand be an part of Amazon, just like how Kindle and the Kindle Store are today. On the other hand on Everest.com would attract new customers who not necessarily would go to Amazon.com for digital media consumption. The “only” thing Amazon would need to make sure is that Everest.com would create a consumer need based on something new, not serving consumers the same or very similar stuff they can get with the established players.