Tag Archives: Portfolio

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”.

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.

 

Mercedes-Benz transitioning to electric

Mercedes-Benz moves into electric using the ‘half-pregnant’ EQ sub-brand approach. The company misses  the point that buyers first and foremost need portfolio clarity.

Whenever there are ground-breaking developments, the incumbent businesses need to watch out. Category shifting breakthroughs are most of the time developed by new companies. They can be so impactful that complete new categories are established and make today’s brands look old and obsolete. Bad news for existing brands!

In the past, we saw it was Nokia versus iPhone, and today it is in the car business Tesla versus the rest. It was not Mercedes-Benz who established the new electric car category globally – it was Tesla. Interestingly, it was Karl Benz who invented the first gas-powered automobile already in 1886. Quite a few years later, in 1901, the Daimler Motors Corporation began selling cars.

Often when a category shift happens, and your brand represents or is a significant player in the old category, the brand will eventually follow the faith of the category. As a brand owner, you need to do everything you can to prevent a downfall.

At Mercedes-Benz, they saw the change to electric coming as well. The company was clearly not ready, and it took time to adapt. For the company, it was vital to continue selling the old gasoline cars to not go out of business. The ‘half pregnant’ business strategy translates directly to the product portfolio strategy. The current Mercedes-Benz portfolio visualizes a company in transition, and it is far from the Mercedez-Benz slogan “The Best or Nothing.”

Look at the entire portfolio as presented on https://www.mercedes-benz.com/en/ and ask yourself:

    • what is the car type? (small family, business, SUV, etc.)
    • what is the ranking of the car inside the overall portfolio (good, better, best)
    • what are the electric cars
    • what do all the letters and combinations of letters mean?

None of it is clear.

Unclear portfolio

 

To make things worse, Mercedes-Benz applied a strange form of sub & endorsed branding with the electric range.

Headlines in car magazines said “Mercedes-Benz’s EQ Sub-Brand Aims to Launch a New Electric Model Every Year” (Car and Driver in 2016) or just as recently as 14 Oct 2021 “Mercedes EQ subbrand to launch in U.S. with electric variant of S-Class sedan” (Automotive News).

What happened at the marketing department at the Mercedes-Benz headquarters? A sub-brand, really? Master-brands and sub-brands are all marketing talk, and they do not exist in the buyer’s mind. People are not shopping for sub-brands or master-brands. They shop for brands and might look for a product within a range.

The basic rule is that people think and buy in the following order:

Brand -> Product range -> Model
not Brand –> Brand -> Product range or Model

It is Mercedes-Benz (brand) -> EQ (range) -> Model
and not ‘Model by Range’ as the Mercedes-Benz Me Lifestyle magazine wants the reader to believe.

So what could Mercedes-Benz have done differently? There would have been two ways to transition the company Mercedes-Benz into the new category or electric.

 

1. Conquer and Switch
The  Geely Holding /  Volvo Corporation strategy. The company repurposed the Polestar brand for just electric cars to compete (conquer) in the electric car segment, while Volvo can switch to electric at its own pace.  For the Mercedes-Benz Company, a new brand (not EQ!) would take on electric while Mercedes-Benz could transition at its own pace.

 

2. Fix the portfolio outside-in and Switch
Let’s face it; the current portfolio is a complete mess with cars inside and outside classes (ranges). This does not help navigate the portfolio and  does not help buyers  relate or understand the order in the portfolio.

Mercedes-Benz should first create ranges that make sense to the buyer or already have meaning, like the A, B, C, G, M, S and V class ranges.  Then slot all cars inside the ranges. No exceptions.

The GLB would move into the G class, and so would the electric EQB. To create clarity, the car model would be renamed GLB EQ.

Then the brand can Switch at its own pace into electric, eventually letting go of all the gasoline models.

Inside-out portfolio

 

Outside-in portfolio

Mercedes-Benz in executing a Switch strategy without clarifying the portfolio to buyers. At this stage option 2 is  the  route to go. Does it come without risk?  Not at all.  It is all about the ‘old’ gasoline car brands versus the ‘new’ electric car brands in a category shift. To compete in electric,  Mercedes-Benz will need to be more convincing in the buyer’s mind than the perceived leader in electric.  This means that when a consumer is in the market for an electric luxury SUV, the Tesla Model X has the leadership perception in terms of the technology over the Mercedes-Benz EQC. Internally there will be a division between those who work on the cool new models and those who need to maintain the old – till the last old gasoline car is sold.

Generally the Conquer strategy is the safest and cleanest route to execute company transition into electric.  The Switch strategy involves  perception risks and can be complicated to execute internally.

Apple Redefining the PC industry

The Apple The Future of Mac event was a big bold move as Apple transitions away from Intel processors to in-house developed silicon. The move is in fact a redefinition of the PC industry business from ‘processor speed’ to a pure choice in form factor.  Yet another industry will get a rude awaking. 

One to rule them all

The reason for Apple silicon is obvious: when you own the full stack from silicon to the user interface you are in control of the total experience while reducing interdependencies.

There is however one drawback to this approach and that became painfully obvious during the presentation of the new Macs: Apple has just one chip which is not advertised in speed.

Consumers have learned that processor speed and the type of processor determines the processing power of a computer. Secondly, by using different processors manufacturers are able to differentiate between their line-up.

An entry laptop will not have a 3.0Ghz 6 core processor with a turbo boost for example. The fact that it was technically not possible (battery and heat-wise) helped to differentiate in various product-lines built around the processor.

 

No more differentiation around the processor

With the introduction of M1, Apple uses the same silicon in their-line up. It was clear from the launch events that Apple struggled with the differentiation between the products.

Just take a look at the Apple Mac Compare page for the new M1 products: Macbook Air, Macbook Pro and Mini and you will notice it is all the same

There are some small differences, like Touch Bar, Wide Stereo Sound, nits brightness, expansion ports… but nothing more.

Even on the individual product pages, the same M1 information is presented:

 

The future is form 

Going forward the difference will be in the form, additional gimmicks, but not speed. In fact, just like with the iPhone product platform the difference will be the form factor: iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max

This change in dealing with a computer portfolio is probably the biggest change we have seen.

Taking this approach makes it easy for Apple to create product update cycles based on the M processors, which could go like this:

2020
Macbook Air M1
Macbook Pro M1
Mac Mini M1

2021
Macbook Air M2
Macbook Pro M2
Mac Mini M2
iMac M2

With heath and power consumption for the first time not being an issue anymore in the computing industry line-ups can be dramatically simplified.

During the launch event, the positioning between the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro was far from clear.  Both are exactly the same, except for some small features like ports, touch bar etc – so why would Apple keep in them in the long run? The answer: for the form factor, think screen sizes and future platform enhancements made possible by the total control of everything from processor to UI.

 

Redefining the PC industry

With the move to form factor based differentiation Apple is redefining the PC industry. The same portfolio simplicity that works with the iPhone, iPad, and Watch has now finally entered the desktop and laptop market.  The PC manufacturers with Intel will be in for a rude awakening.