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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 theprocessor
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.
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:
Macbook Air M1
Macbook Pro M1
Mac Mini M1
Macbook Air M2 Macbook Pro M2
Mac Mini 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.
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