Tag Archives: Brand perception

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.

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.

Mozy… do you really think I change my bi-yearly subscription from 83USD to 1343USD? This offer I will refuse!

Mozy was in many ways an example of brand building. First there is a reliable service that simply works. Second there is plenty of good PR (Mossberg, trends) and word of mouth. Then when the backup category got established the TV spots came to defend the position of the brand.

I got referred to Mozy by a good friend of mine and yes … I have been referring Mozy to many friends as well! Like I said, the service simply works!

This morning however Mozy blew it big time: they changed their proposition from “unlimited backup with yearly subscription fee” to “pay for storage, pay per gigabyte”… Not smart! Once consumers perceive you as free or unlimited (even with a subscription fee) you cannot change the business model unless you are willing to start from zero in brand and relationship building.

For me it is over and out with Mozy and it seems with many others as well, just see the discussions and on Twitter. Lots of companies also participate in the discussion to grab switchers!

As I do backup everything (my music, photos, raw photos, ….) I use a bit of space. With the current plan I can do that for 83USD/2years, the new plan will set me back to 1343USD/2years (data growth not included).

Not.

Hugo… I am still the Boss!

Walking by the Hugo Boss Store in the Friedrichstrasse, Berlin I noticed a very interesting window display:

What is this all about? Is Hugo Boss company trying to:

  • Tell me the Hugo Boss brand benefits/ brand promise? Should wearing Hugo Boss make me feel sophisticated, elegant/modern?
  • Reflect characteristics of their target audience?
  • Inform me about perceptions consumers have of the brand Hugo Boss?

Either way it felt disturbing to me. I do not want to see in a window display who I am, what I should be or what the brand I am buying things wants me to believe it is!

The only thing I ask for from Hugo Boss is to not lose focus of your brand. That way everybody can figure out why to buy Boss and how it will make you feel once you have it!

The Whole Foods lesson: CEOs = their brands and should energize their customers

John Mackey CEO of Whole Foods writing for The Wall Street Journal:

While we clearly need health care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and moves us much closer to a complete governmental takeover of our health care system.

Aiii…..

As CEO you just simply need to know your brand, your customers and in fact live the essence of your brand and it’s positioning.

The result of this mistake is costly. People are now rallying against Whole Foods, trying to boycott stores and hence impacting revenue. This is however the not so costly side of this mistake… the much more damaging side of this story is that for Whole Foods consumers who are aware of Mr Mackey’s opinion on Healtcare the perception of Whole Foods as a brand has changed for ever. It will never be that authentic brand it was. Changing THAT perception will take time and much more money than any boycott will do. Especially in a time of Facebook, Twitter etc in which it is really difficult to “silence the crowd”.

So, CEOs please stay true to your brands and their unique positions!