Al Ries – Father of Positioning passed away

Al Ries – the father of positioning, passed away at home peacefully at the age of 95. The books and lectures by Al and his daughter Laura Ries continue to be my source of inspiration.

I remember the first time I read the book Positioning – the battle for the Mind.  The book describes an approach to creating a “position” in the consumer’s mind reflecting the brand’s strengths and weaknesses and those of its competitors. I was blown away by the simplicity.

I immediately purchased all the other books Al Ries wrote – they are all masterpieces and written in a distinct humorous way. Al also wrote great articles for AdAge. Reading was not enough; I watched most of his recorded speeches thanks to YouTube. While the core thinking of Al – positioning for the mind using categories- always comes through, I never got bored by his analysis.

Needless to say: Al Ries became my source of inspiration, and in 2020, I finally decided to thank him personally. I told him a personal story about Nokia – the company I worked for when first encountered the books of Al Ries.

To my great surprise and happiness, Al responded to me (fanboy moment!)

Dear Michiel: Thanks for your kind words and the Nokia story. We keep promoting the same thing. A new category, like the smartphone, demands a new brand name like the iPhone. Look at the electric vehicle business which Tesla dominates. Yet every major automobile company in the world did the same thing as Nokia when the iPhone was launched. They introduced electric vehicles with their existing brand names. All the best. Al

I end this post the same way I ended my message to Al:
Thank you Al for all your insights, lessons, and clear & crisp analysis.

 

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”.

The brand iPod is dead – the brand Apple lives on

Apple announced the end of iPod. It is not only the end of a well positioned brand, but also the end of the portable music player category.

 

In 2001 Apple launched the iPod. One look at the above advertisement made clear what the iPod brand was all about: a digital music player holding 1000 songs in your pocket. The advertisement combined a clear product image, brand name, and category benefit.

 

Strong brand

Consumers went en masse to the shops to buy iPods. Repeat: consumers went out to buy the iPod, not the Apple. For many it was in fact the first real encounter with the company Apple.

The advertisements were very consistent and therefore recognizable for consumers:

The portable music category got an enormous boost and iPod became very quickly the leading brand inside the category. In fact the brand iPod became synonymous with music player.

 

Changes inside the category

Inside the overall music category, the medium to enjoy music changed in the last decades. It went from CDs bought in record stores and played on CD players to digital music players (iPod) and digital music stores (iTunes). For years the iPod and iTunes brands made room for the smartphone and apps such as Spotify. Every change impacted the brands representing the category.

The shift from music players to phones impacted Apple, iPod and other electronic brands operating inside the ‘Portable Music Player’ category.

Companies only manufacturing & selling portable music players do not exist anymore in the same way Apple would not exist anymore if the company would only be active in portable music.

The change in medium and ultimately killing iPod does not harm Apple. Apple uses a Multi-Category Strategy with strong brands like iPhone in phones, Mac in computers. Unfortunately over the last years, Apple started using descriptively named line extensions. For example, the company bought the Beats streaming music service, merged it with iTunes, and renamed it to Apple Music. The company launched Apple TV and Apple Watch. Often the line extensions are inspired by the company leadership.

Line Extensions

The Multi-Category Strategy using descriptive line extensions make a lot of sense with the leadership team and shareholders. The thinking could go like this: ‘when we rename all our products Apple, then they contribute directly to the Apple brand, a key indicator for shareholders and investors.

The thinking goes wrong with the consumer. Unique names are so much easier to talk about and recommend.

‘I stream music using Beats on my iWatch’ is much better in terms of positioning and owning a unique category than ‘I stream music from Apple Music on my Apple Watch’. Consumers are likely to even remove the Apple brand in the conversation – the exact opposite Apple these days wants to achieve.

The success of the iPod and iPhone were instrumental to the success of the Apple brand. But too often, successful companies fall in love with the company name, forgetting that people buy brands and not companies.

 



This article is based on content in the book Win With What – the first category-led growth book for anyone who wants their business to thrive and survive.

Get your preview at WinWithWhat.com

 

Segway – a brand that failed to take a position

Segway is a brand that failed to take a position and communicate clearly the What of the brand.

According to Wikipedia, Segway is ‘a two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporter’ .  The problem is apparent: it is not possible to relate Segway to anything we know. Until a brand can be related to something people know, the brand keeps drifting in the brain – trying to find a category to ground itself.

Below is the hompage from March 2002. Segway is welcoming visitors to ” the evolution in mobility” without explaining What the  product is.

 

When diving into the “Segway HT” section the focus is on communication what the product does “Human Transporter” and the benefits “that functions like an extension of you”.  Also on this page it is still unclear what the Segway exactly is. Human Transporter comes close, but nobody would say “hey, can you get my human transporter?”

 

After almost 20 years of trying to convince people to buy a Segway, the company decided in June 2020 to stop making the product. FastCompany wrote, ‘Exclusive: Segway, the most hyped invention since the Macintosh, ends production’.

The expectations at launch were enormous :

‘Its inventor, Dean Kamen, famously predicted in a 2001 Time magazine interview that the Segway ‘will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.’ In the same story, venture capitalist John Doerr predicted the company would be the fastest ever to reach $1 billion in sales.’

Unfortunately the company failed to create a clear need by explaining the What of Segway. Those who bought Segway would likely not refer to it as the ‘human transporter’, ‘personal transporter’, or the ‘two-wheeled self-balancing personal transporter’.

What Segway could have done is to stay closer to what people already knew and were familiar with at the time of launch. Explore a variation of the scooter category, promote the What and create a need by showing how people benefit from the new category and with that, the Segway.



This article is  from the book Win With What – the first category-led growth book for anyone who wants their business to thrive and survive.

Get your preview at WinWithWhat.com

 

 

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.

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.

Icelandverse

Iceland’s parody on Metaverse – a new tourism video sparking thought about virtual versus real life.

Zuckerberg told the world “the metaverse’s defining quality is the feeling of presence … like you’re there with other people.”

The Iceland Tourism board made a brilliant move by positioning the country Iceland as a complete opposite of a virtual reality world envisioned by Zuckerberg.  Icelandverse is ”a place of “enhanced actual reality without silly looking headsets.”

 

 

It is good that brands (countries are brands too!) position themselves by presenting an alternative or an opposite. We humans still need alternatives. If you are not all-in Metaverse, then there is an alternative, the Icelandverse. If you do not like Coca-Cola, there is Pepsi. Alternatives and opposites help people to make a choice.

 

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.

 

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