Launched in June of 2006, Branding Strategy Insider serves a wide range of marketing oriented leaders & professionals. We focus on delivering meaningful, thought provoking content that promotes an elevated conversation on the discipline of branding & fosters community among marketers. BSI is a service of The Blake Project, a brand consultancy serving brands around the world.
In many ways, emerging markets are one of the best places to look for what’s cutting edge and breaking through in retail. Unburdened by legacy infrastructure and processes, brands in these markets are free to imagine new ways to connect with customers. Some of the most stellar examples can be found in China.
Most people buy cars from dealerships. In China, more people are doing it online. It’s no secret that China has a booming eCommerce market, accounting for 47% of digital sales worldwide, and it’s only natural that as these consumers buy groceries, clothes and appliances online, their comfort with buying online is expanding into more substantial items, like cars.
The top brands see opportunity to blend the digital and physical worlds into an experience designed to delight customers. In Guangzhou, customers can buy or try a car using a smart phone app and a car vending machine. Ford and Alibaba partnered to create the Super Test-Drive Center built around a multi-story building housing dozens of Ford vehicles. The service taps services used in Alibaba and provides potential buyers with discounts and incentives based on their usage.
As Matt Burns notes in TechCrunch, “It seems the Super Test-Drive Center’s edge will come from its deeper understanding of potential buyers. The data provided by Alibaba should make for an interesting shopping experience especially, if as advertised, it gives deals based on a person’s perceived lifestyle. If nothing else, it should be a fun advertising tactic because there’s nothing like a car vending machine with giant cat ears.”
Alibaba is leading the way with what it calls the New Retail model. Taking to JWT Intelligence, Victor Wu, director of smart store operations at Tmall’s New Retail division says, “We use online advertisements to spark interest, and the analytics gathered can be leveraged to provide even more precise marketing.” The data is mixed with online and offline loyalty program information to help salespeople create tailored in-store experiences, starting with an AI receptionist that greets customers at the dealership.
Some manufacturers that aren’t using eCommerce, are using China as a testing ground for digital-first dealerships aimed at connected customers. Porsche has a digitally-optimized dealership featuring interactive displays, augmented reality and online-to-offline WeChat engagement. The Mercedes Me experience center, which mixes fashion, nightlife and retail in a single space, is now on its third year of driving awareness and increasing brand loyalty.
Here are three ways brands can learn from the trend at the heart of what these dealerships are doing in China:
1. Partner with a platform: Digital transformation wasn’t just a revolution in how customers buy, it’s equally revolutionary in how brands sell. Just last week in the US, Sears shares perked up on news that customers can now buy tires at Amazon and get them installed at Sears. Partnering with a platform might also provide additional data streams which can be used to enhance the customer experience with anticipatory, predictive offers.
2. Seamless blends the best of both worlds: Following the success of their partnership with Alibaba’s Tmall, Masterati is now working with Alibaba to leverage its online data and artificial intelligence to provide customers with an improved experience in their Beijing and Shanghai dealerships, which will be the first “smart store” offline. It’s important to understand how your customers like to buy versus how they like to shop.
3. Try something new: Interactive displays with haptic feedback and facial recognition are enabling screens to be smarter and attract more business. Even KFC is trying out facial recognition in China, using the technology to make recommendations based on a customer’s age, gender and mood. If that sounds a little Orwellian, consider more basic tactics like signage that is connected to the cloud, dynamically serving offers based on real-time changes like weather, or volume of traffic to the store. The price points for solutions like this continue to decrease.
In the nineteenth century Charles Darwin was struck by a number of oddities in the natural world that contradicted his theory of evolution. The peacock, for example, with its huge cumbersome tail baffled him to the extent he wrote to Asa Gray on April 3rd 1860:
“The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick”.
The peacock troubled Darwin because his theory suggested it should have evolved a shorter tail that made fleeing from predators easier.
The peacock wasn’t the only troublesome example. The male bowerbird spends thousands of hours building extravagant nests. Again, a seeming contradiction to survival of the fittest. Surely, birds that spent less time nest-building would have a better chance of finding the food necessary to survive?
Darwin’s conundrum was answered in 1975 by Amotz Zahavi, a biologist at Tel Aviv University, who developed the theory of costly signaling. According to Zahavi costly signals are harder to fake and are therefore, more believable.
The ability to survive despite a cumbersome tail or hours spent nest-building conveys genuine genetic fitness to potential mates. Less fit specimens don’t have the time available to build a palatial nest or the agility to avoid predators when handicapped with a long tail.
The Advertising Application
A similar effect occurs in advertising. John Kay, an economist at Oxford University, suggests that advertising works not because of the explicit messages, but because it’s a costly signal. Advertising known to be expensive signals the volume of the resources available to the advertiser. As Kay says in his landmark paper:
“The advertiser has either persuaded lots or people to buy his product already, a good sign, or has persuaded someone to lend him lots of money to finance the campaign.”
Just as in the natural world, advertising works, not despite its perception of costliness, but because of it.
Kay further states that since advertising tends to recoup its costs in the long term only a company with substantial commitment to their brand would invest significant sums of money in advertising. A poor-quality brand can advertise to generate trial but no amount of spend can deliver repeat purchase to disgruntled customers.
In his words, advertising, therefore, acts as a screening mechanism that:
“convincingly signals the quality of a product by displaying the producer’s sincere faith in his own output, reflected by the money spent promoting it.”
This theory neatly explains why famous sponsorships are effective. They demonstrate a costly and, therefore, honest belief in the strength of the advertised product.
Of course, this theory relies on an awareness of the price of sponsorships. Is this the case? A study I conducted along with Jenny Riddell suggests that consumers are well aware how costly sports sponsorship can be. We surveyed 333 nationally representative consumers about the cost of the Real Madrid shirt sponsorship. Of those who gave a figure, 89% thought it cost more than £30 million per year, the rough cost.
How Can Brands Capitalize On These Findings?
Brands must recognize that much of advertising’s impact comes from implicit communication. There is a role, even in the era of procurement, for bold brand statements. The occasional extravagance displays a confidence that mere ad claims cannot emulate.
There was a period between about 2016-2017 where many brands seemed to conflate purpose and positioning. During these two years, it seemed society was having an awakening that manifested in multiple, intersectional ways: A major refugee crisis was happening in Europe; Britain decided to leave the EU; Donald Trump was elected; and #metoo and #timesup forced sweeping change across a myriad of public and private organizations.
But the reaction to these phenomena in the culture was often polarizing, with online social platforms only multiplying the effect as algorithms optimized to create “filter bubbles” of impassioned points of view and moral posturing. Because brands reflect what’s happening in the culture, there were more than a few brand managers who decided to introduce storylines they imagined would appeal to customers’ sense of virtue.
Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman sums it up succinctly when he says, “Do you, as a company, have certain values? That’s great. Support them with money and actions but, please, leave me out of your self-regard. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, not to impress me with your nobility. Virtue-hustling is just one example of the old school psycho-babble trope of ‘laddering-up’ of consumer benefits. Often to the point at which they have no relationship to the product at hand.”
And that’s just the problem with anchoring a brand’s market position around a purpose that is thought of as virtuous. Diageo’s CMO Syl Saller says, “Everyone is using purpose in a different way and not defining it. And a lot of people are defining it as just things that are worthy and good for society. Our definition is really simple; it’s why a brand exists.”
For many, the word purpose connotates something admirable and worthy. This is the mistake.
And Diageo (with a brand portfolio of spirits and beer) has made their fair share of mistakes. Back in 2011, a campaign for Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur called “Make Women Shine” used lines such as ‘Be a woman for life, not for applause’, They wanted to play the role of empowerment in female consumers’ lives, but lacked the insight to suggest that’s what customers wanted.
Diageo Europe’s innovation director Ed Pilkington recounts, “Baileys is a brand that skews female, but we suddenly pushed it too far and wanted to become a movement for females. And then we thought, let’s just take a step back and think, what is the role that Baileys plays? About 100 million people in Europe claim to love Baileys and why do they enjoy it? Because it’s lovely. So what does it stand for? It’s all about providing an indulgent, lovely treat.”
Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign was received favorably by consumers, but Mark Ritson castigated the purpose-driven ad, not for the values it expresses, but because it seemed the brand was an afterthought of the marketing. And marketing is not a public service agency, but rather a function that exists to sell. “Step back from the powerful four-minute Heineken ad for just 30 seconds and ask yourself why Heineken is the featured brand? Couldn’t any other brand pull this off with equal legitimacy? Surely this ad would work just as well with Guinness, Becks, Strongbow, Stella Artois or a host of other beverages,” he says.
And he’s right.
When purpose gets confused for a position, (how the brand is perceived in the context of competitive alternatives) brands lose their ability to differentiate and compete. A brand’s culture, organization and strategy are what reveal its purpose, not the other way around. As Ritson says, “Somewhere between the commodifying monochrome of physical and mental availability and the achingly cool, belief-based world of ‘inspiring communities to be great’ is a middle path. A path we can call differentiated brand image.”
The Blake Project Can Help: Please for more about our positioning, purpose, mission, vision and values workshops.
What happens when employees see changes unfold and decisions get made without access to a clear story about what’s going on?
In the absence of such a story, they will make up one that best explains these events. And these stories typically don’t serve an organization well. For example, let’s say that an executive team announces a 20 per cent reduction in spending. Left to work out the context of the decision themselves, the employees start telling a story about how the leaders have mismanaged the company and the workers may as well leave now because they will be fired shortly anyway. But in fact, the leaders see the cost reduction as a temporary adjustment: they expect more growth within three quarters. And they can’t afford to lose anyone because they will need an experienced workforce to meet future demand. These leaders should have used a clarity story to explain the reasons for their decision and what they see happening in the future.
In the late 1970s, Ellen Langer and some colleagues at Harvard University showed in a simple experiment just how powerful reasons can be. At the Harvard library there was a single photocopier that always had a line of people waiting to use it. For the experiment, Langer’s colleagues would walk to the front of that line and ask to cut in. If they said it was ‘because I’m in a rush’, 95 per cent of the time the people in the line said yes. But if they gave no reason, only 60 per cent of those queuing said yes. Interestingly, if the researchers gave a bogus reason but still used the word ‘because’, 93 per cent of the people in the line still said yes. Human beings like reasons, and the clarity story gives people a reason in the most powerful and digestible format possible.
The clarity story has a simple four-part framework:
Part 1 ‘In the past…’ (how things were before the change happened)
Part 2 ‘Then something happened…’ (the event/s that caused the problem or opportunity)
Part 3 ‘So now…’ (the decision/s made to counter the problem or take advantage of the opportunity)
Part 4 ‘In the future…’ (the likely outcome).
Say that as part of a new business strategy, the leader of a bank decides to call their branches ‘stores’. And instead of branch managers, they appoint store managers, and so on. A couple of years go by and a new leader is appointed. They switch the language back to branches and branch managers. Well, without a clarity story, the bank’s employees will be confused. Why did the bank switch back to the old names, especially considering the expense involved in returning the branding to what it was before? Couldn’t that money be put to better use?
The bank’s senior leaders needed to tell a clarity story, something like this:
In the past the bank got set in its ways and we only compared ourselves to other banks. We weren’t being stretched. So we changed our strategy and compared ourselves to retailers, and to help us do that we renamed our branches ‘stores’. This change really encouraged our store managers to get out and see how other retailers make a difference. It was a tremendous success. Our stores were transformed and we came up with new ways of working. Most importantly, a new attitude to our work emerged.
Then something happened. We started to hear in the field that our customers were uncomfortable with the new language. When investing big dollars with us, they didn’t want to deal with a store manager. They wanted the branch manager back. We realized that calling ourselves stores helped us enormously, but it wasn’t helping our clients. And in this competitive market we need to be totally focused on our customers.
So now we’re changing back to branches and branch managers and we will switch all of our branding to match. We understand this will require significant resources to make it happen, and yes, we can all think of a million other things we might use that kind of money for. But at the end of the day, customer experience has to be at the top of our list.
In the future we will get even greater customer satisfaction, which will be the core of our long-term success. And as it turns out, many of you were happier with the original terminology anyway so this will be widely welcomed by your colleagues.
As you get comfortable with the clarity story structure, signposts like ‘In the past’ and ‘Then something happened’ can be replaced by language that comes naturally to you. Just ensure that the structure remains intact. As you know, you will only get the benefits of storytelling if you tell a story. I’ve had leaders say things like, ‘Hey, the outcomes are the most important part of this story. We should put them up the front’. Unfortunately, when you do that, it’s no longer a story. It’s just an argument.
The process of intentional change for brands — and people is a simple four-step process. First, you explore where you are. Second, you decide where you want to go. Third, you determine strategies and habits that lead you to your destination. Fourth, you implement.
It really is that simple. On paper. In real life there are obstacles, habits and fears. There are prices to be paid and sacrifices to be made. In real life, intentional change is not so easy.
There is an additional step, a prequel step, to take before making intentional change that will help make the rest of the steps easier: destruction.
You must first destroy those things that are holding you in place. Our lives are constructed to maintain the status quo; where we are. Our habits, our relationships and our schedules all reinforce maintaining what we currently do. To make intentional change, we need to destroy some of the bonds that hold us.
To burn down what is holding you back, you must be willing to light the match. The following eight thought pieces will help you break free of the old and make way for the new.
Today, every business has a burning platform; a friction point between their customers’ expectations and offerings that are disrupting their business. The longer they wait to solve it, the more likely it is to burn their entire business.
The first step for a change leader is to free up resources that are committed to maintaining things that no longer contribute to performance and no longer produce results. Maintaining yesterday is always difficult and extremely time-consuming. Maintaining yesterday always commits the institution’s scarcest and most valuable resources–and above all, its ablest people–to nonresults. Yet doing anything differently–let alone innovating–always creates unexpected difficulties. It demands leadership by people of high and proven ability. And if those people are committed to maintaining yesterday, they are simply not available to create tomorrow.
Any business or organization wanting to make changes to a brand to which people have a strong emotional connection need to ensure that changes be discussed with, approved by or co-created with the people who really ‘own’ the brand – the audience.
Marketers struggle sometimes to pace brands to the speeds of consumers. There’s a tendency to believe that everything must change, change, change – and that brands that aren’t always adding or shifting will lose attention. All the talk of innovation and customer impatience fuels that. The reality is something different. Buyers need brands to be familiar and interesting, not one or the other.
No business these days can just sit pretty. But the extent and nature of changes confuses many. Brands evolve. Or die. But they must also retain something of what consumers know. Or they fade. So which is more important? And how should a brand act, when?
So often it seems to me brand owners hope to bring about change rather than planning to bring about change. They see persuasion as an awareness issue rather than as a behavioral issue – often because they regard their product as the obvious choice that somehow, miraculously will spark a “road to Damascus” moment as soon as consumers encounter it.
Around 70% of large-scale change programs fail to meet their goals – and a key reason for that, according to Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, is that organizations cannot resist managing the implementation of change rather than looking for ways to psychologically and systematically embed it. In effect, the authors suggest, most change programs are too late, too self-serving, too autocratic and too engineered to succeed.
As organizations grow, they inevitably become more complex and less focused, and they stop growing. This is the paradox of growth. Assemble a thousand human minds in the same building, tell them to simplify something, and they will work hard to make it harder. So leaders must be guardians of speed and agility.
Speed is a driving factor for brand advantage. Speed to decide. Speed to deliver. Speed to market. Speed to restock inventory. Speed to solve customer problems. Speed to get to the root cause. Speed to adapt. Speed to acquire and integrate. Speed to see crises coming. Speed to prepare. Speed to act. Speed to grow.
Speed wins in most markets today, and scale insurgents know it. Despite their size, the great scale insurgents are among the fastest-moving companies in the world. Research in the organizational practice at Bain & Company shows a tight relationship between company performance, speed of decision, and perceived quality of decisions. Leaders of scale insurgents are acutely aware, we have found, of how their companies can slow down as they grow large. They fight this at every turn by rooting out some or all of the hidden killers of speed:
Hidden Killers Of Speed In Organizations
1. Excess complexity
2. Energy vampires
3. Debates in committees where no person “has the D” (the right to decide)
4. Excessive organizational layers and span breakers
5. Ambiguity around core principles and objectives and a lack of common instincts for how to react to competitors
6. Trapped resources in departments (hence, the power of zero basing)
7. Balkanized customer experiences with no single owner
8. Lack of Monday meetings to de-bottleneck decisions and actions, leaving conflict unresolved
9. Failure to embrace the power of repeatable models so that each new growth opportunity demands new and different capabilities
10. Large corporate staffs endlessly initiating new activities to better inform themselves
The bottom line: leaders should make speed a competitive advantage in everything they do. Every leader should work to reduce the speed killers, promote measures of speed, and encourage new ideas that increase it. In his twenty years as CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch grew the company from $26.8 billion of revenues to almost $130 billion. But he was most known for improving its performance and speed. “When the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside,” he famously said, “the end is in sight.”
But speed isn’t enough. Leaders need to be the guardians of agility, too. Yonghui, the leading Chinese fresh-food grocer, improves its agility by building insurgent “green store” businesses alongside its incumbent “red store” businesses, figuring that if a new insurgent is going to disrupt its industries, it should at least be its insurgent. The leaders of Mey, the leading spirits player in Turkey, maintain their agility through Monday meetings, which they use to unblock obstacles to innovation and force the sharing of resources—and accountability—across functions and sales territories. AB InBev, for its part, promotes agility by embedding the owner’s mindset everywhere in the business.
Harry Selfridge coined the phrase “the customer is always right” more than a century ago. As proprietor of London’s Selfridge’s department store, he built a business around the notion that retailers should listen to their customers and provide excellent service. Unbelievably, that was actually a novel concept at a time when many businesses actively sought to mislead customers to make a sale. Echoed by other retailers and then across all sorts of businesses, the maxim stood the test of time and helped to fuel a whole industry devoted to understanding what customers think. But most organizations take the quote literally, which is a problem.
When you combine a literal interpretation of Selfridge’s quote with an assumption that customers can tell you what they want, you get into a vicious cycle that looks like this:
Believe the customer is always right.
Therefore, I’ll just ask them what they want.
The customers tell you what they think they want.
Give the customers what they want.
On the surface, this feels conceptually right. It appeals to the rational part of our brain. But for all of you who have designed products to meet all the reported needs of customers and then seen them fail upon launch, this is the issue. In many cases, customers will tell you what they think they want – but those wants won’t translate into behavior in the real world because many factors beyond what we think we want influence our actions in the real world. It’s not that customers aren’t well intentioned; they are. But social scientists have shown time and time again the size of the gap between expressed preferences (what customers say) and revealed preferences (what they actually do).
Consider perhaps the most basic of purchases – replenishing your carton of milk. If consumers were asked all about the qualities they want in their milk, they would “overreport” their preferences for qualities such as fresh, organic, local, or other predictable qualities that you might name if you were trying to pit one brand of milk against another. But more often than not, the occasion determines the brand chosen. If you’re running to the convenience store to pick up milk because you ran out, you are quite unlikely to go to a second store if your “preferred” brand is unavailable in that location. If you move to a new neighborhood and your local grocery store doesn’t carry your old preferred brand, you’re more likely to switch milk brands than drive to get the old brand. Finally, the most likely way to understand what brand of milk you will purchase on your next trip is to ask what you purchased on your last trip (as about the behavior – not about the preference).
Milk buying – for most consumers – is a habit, and the only way to effectively change behavior is to disrupt the habit in some way. Simply giving the consumer their preferred qualities in a brand of milk and putting that next to the brand they’ve always bought is very unlikely to yield a successful change.
Higher involvement purchases are slightly more fraught. In those situations, customers perceive the risk of getting the choice wrong to be higher and therefore obsess over the deliberation – and their motivations – more than they would in buying a tube of toothpaste. Take a story out of real life.
Geoff was in the market for a road bike recently. Having watched his wife become consumed with the sport, he figured he should probably jump on the bandwagon if he ever expected to see her on weekends again. He knew very little about the machines when he went to the shop, and soon discovered just how deep that ignorance ran. He was led through all the relevant choices that he needed to make in order to configure the right bike for himself and came to (somewhat) understand the options behind the choices. He answered myriad questions about what he wanted to achieve, what hurt when he exercised, how often he imagined himself riding, etc. When he was done and had ended up with something that he had spent more than an hour helping to design and which cost roughly 10 times what he had expected to spend, the spiraling commenced. What else could he use this money for? Would he really ride as often as he imagined? Are there better ways to get exercise and isn’t this whole biking thing a bit of a fad? Plus, it’s dangerous, right? And what does his wanting to “catch up” to his wife in a sport say about their relationship and his place in it?! Maybe if he wanted to get cycling exercise, he should go the Peloton route instead just so he doesn’t run the risk of infringing on her private space.
Geoff walked out without buying a bike.
As it turns out, offering more choice, while it feels like you are giving the customer “what they want” can be paralyzing, as it was to Geoff. In 2000, researchers at Columbia University sought to understand the impact of selection on purchase behavior. They compared shopper behavior in two real-world situations. Under one situation, customers had a selection of 6 gourmet jams at an upscale grocery store. Under the other, there were 24 types of jams in the display. What the study revealed was that while the broader choice display made 40–60% of customers stop more frequently, purchase behavior was quite different. Only 3% of consumers purchased from the 24-jam display while 30% of consumers purchased from the 6-jam display. The incremental choice made decision-making harder, not easier, even though it’s what the customer would have indicated they want.
Years ago, a company such as Schwinn, with limited options, might have been able to ask customers which model they might prefer and get something back that was more reliable. Something as simple as good, better, best get consumers to respond in a more reliable way. But today, the configurations available with many bike options make it considerably harder for customers to reliably indicate preferences, especially for a newcomer like Geoff. The experience of building his bike increased his involvement to the point that he was overwhelmed with the feeling that he was making the wrong decision – and it wasn’t just because of the price.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Geoff Tuff and Steven Goldbach. Excerpted from their book Detonate with permission of the publisher, Wiley. Copyright (c) 2018 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Brands have been rapidly increasing their outreach to women in general. Whether in products, or portrayals in pop culture, the classic stereotype of the perfect housewife is being shed for something more real-world. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign is a great example. Even Mattel rolled out a new line of Barbie dolls in different skin tones and body shapes that aligned more with the expectations of modern audiences.
But, as Shelina Janmohamed observes in an article on Campaign, “Almost instantly [after Mattel released the new Barbies], a young Nigerian Muslim woman set up an Instagram account that shot to popularity with photographs of a fashion line she had created for Hijarbie. Teen Vogue dubbed her ‘the best doll that Barbie forgot to create’”.
According to Pew Research, over a quarter of the world’s population will be Muslim by the year 2050. The current Muslim lifestyle spend is at around $2.6 trillion, and the marketplace for halal products is expected to grow by 6 per cent in the next three years. Research into Muslim attitudes around the world conducted by Ogilvy Noor found the emergence of a segment they call ‘Muslim Futurists’. Defined as people who choose to live a life they feel is both faithful and modern, these ‘futurists’ want the best brands, products and services, but only when it meets the requirements of their faith.
This is especially true in southeast Asia, where a cohort of young, tech-savvy Muslim women is on the rise in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. A JWT Intelligence trend report called The New Muslimah: Southeast Asia focus, takes a deep dive into this emerging sector. The report finds, “these young women are more cosmopolitan as consumers than older generations of female Muslims and are also more religiously observant. These two trends—more Islamic and more global—are playing out across sectors from food to beauty and fashion to banking to technology to travel, presenting opportunities and challenges to brands.”
Some brands are seeing more opportunity, even if their actions have been met with a backlash. Here’s a few examples from fashion/apparel categories:
Nike released a Pro Hijab after working with female athletes who highlighted difficulties of competing wearing a traditional hijab
H&M’s corporate social responsibility campaign is about sustainability featuring 60 “rule-breakers”, including a fashionable Muslim woman.
Uniqlo announced it was releasing a ‘Lifewear’ range in Malaysia aimed at Muslim women who choose to dress modestly.
Today’s successful brands are letting go of stereotypes. This means breaking with the played-out narrative of oppression so often found in western culture. Being a Muslim woman “is not a binary,” as poet and playwright Nabilah Said says. “there is no definitive choice between a religious life or a secular one. In fact, a lot of Muslim women live somewhere in the middle.”
Also, brands must increase their cultural knowledge if they are to reach this economically powerful audience. An absence of understanding here is creating major opportunities for start-ups and could pose a threat to established brands who haven’t quite come around. Because it is so easy to see through brands that are faking it, having someone from the culture shape the way a brand goes to market and communicate with consumers should be a requirement.
Brand is used to appeal to peoples’ emotions, by creating meaning that has a value to someone. So why is there any surprise if people react emotionally when organizations (or their brand agencies) make changes to a brand?
Zygmunt Bauman puts this much more succinctly in Celia Lury’s Consumer Culture. ’For the individual, joining a tribe means adopting a peculiar lifestyle; or, rather, the road to a coherent lifestyle leads through the adoption of tribally sanctioned structure of relevance complete with a kit of totemic symbols.’
If we consider a brand in terms of helping form a persons self-identity, then by changing elements of a brand that in part form the ‘totemic symbols’ it could be argued that we are also changing part of a person’s self-identity. So, as brand leaders, if we are changing a part of a persons self-identity we need to be prepared for the inevitable push back from them. Particularly if this change has been made without the consultation or permission of the individual.
Some brands appeal much more to peoples emotions and surely there can be no brands more emotionally-resonant than those of sports clubs. By looking at peoples’ reactions to changes in sports club brands, we can see extreme examples of how people respond when a change is made to a brand, and as a consequence their self-identity.
The Ultimate Emotional Brands – Sports Clubs
Sports clubs engender a loyalty that other organizations can only dream of. Once someone has set their heart on a club then (usually) they are committed for life, in good times and bad. Imagine that once someone has chosen a soft drink in their youth that becomes the only drink that will pass their lips…ever. This is great for the sports club, but what this level of commitment and loyalty creates is a sense of ‘ownership’ of the brand by its fans.
A sports club may like to think that they own their brand, but there are numerous examples of club owners falling foul when trying to do something the fans didn’t approve of, or didn’t fit their idea of the role the brand plays in the creation of their self-identity.
Here in the UK, football is a hugely popular sport, and it has seen some of the biggest reactions to changes in a brand. In 2010 Assem Allam bought a football club, Hull City, and decided that their name ‘City’ was too common. His ambition was for the club to become a globally recognizable brand, and so decided to change their name from City to something more unique and ownable. Allam attempted to rename the club Hull Tigers, but the fans protested vociferously. Even though the club nickname already actually is Tigers, the fans simply weren’t prepared to accept the name change. The FA [footballs governing body in the UK] rejected the name change request, twice, and so the club remains Hull City. Allam might own the football club, but he discovered that he doesn’t own the brand – although he hasn’t quite given up the wrestle of control of the brand just yet.
Another example in football is that of Cardiff City, and their football uniform color and badge. Cardiff City has been known as the Bluebirds since 1908, but that didn’t stop their new owner Vincent Tan from changing their uniform from blue (which they had also worn since 1908) to red. He also changed their badge from featuring the bluebird to using a dragon. His plan was simple, in order to become a global brand Cardiff City needed to utilize existing references to Wales, i.e. a red dragon (it is on the Welsh flag after all). The strategy was to tie Cardiff City to Wales, and in so doing make the club a more appealing and identifiable brand globally. Maybe it did, but again the fans weren’t happy. Fan protests took place and in 2015 they changed back to being the Bluebirds, with the bird on their badge, and playing in blue. Again, the owner might own the club but he didn’t own the brand.
One final example is that of Bristol Rugby Football Club, a rugby union team based in the UK city of Bristol (unsurprisingly). They have recently been promoted to the top division of rugby, and to capitalize on this success have launched a new identity and most controversially a new name – Bristol Bears. Naming a sports team after an animal is nothing new, certainly not to US sports fans, but there isn’t a great deal of history of this in the UK – and there is certainly no history of bears in Bristol. The new name has caused uproar with fans, with accusations of the club ‘Americanization’ and of robbing the club and brand of its history. How this plays out we shall see in the near future, but for now a large percentage of the audience (74% in a recent poll) feel that the brand has changed to an identity which they don’t really want as a part of their self-identity.
Be Prepared For A Reaction. It’s Actually Good That People Care.
We could go on and on listing examples, but the lesson is always the same. Should a brand have a existing emotional connection with its audience, then any changes made to this brand – and therefore by association an individual’s self-identity – must be handled with care. Whether changing a name, a logo, or a color, what is also being changed is a part of that individuals’ self-identity.
Any business or organization wanting to make changes to a brand to which people have a strong emotional connection need to ensure that changes be discussed with, approved by or co-created with the people who really ‘own’ the brand – the audience. Developing a sense of mutual trust between the organization and the audience is central to having any changes be welcomed, embraced and succeeding.
Very few organizations’ brands have the emotional connection sports clubs do, but if as brand leaders we aspire for people to emotionally connect with a brand then we cannot be surprised or offended when people react emotionally to any changes. In fact, if people do react emotionally then it shows we are doing something right and they care about what the brand means to and says about them. If we are altering a part of a persons self-identity, then the very least we can do is consult them during the process.
Janusian thinking is a term coined by the psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg to denote the creative benefits that can emerge from considering opposites simultaneously. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, usually depicted with two faces staring in opposite directions. Some of the world’s most creative thinkers, Rothenberg argues, developed their signature ideas in this two-faced way by conceiving of firmly held propositions as “simultaneously true and not true.” This can lead to some extraordinarily creative thinking. (Einstein devised his theory of relativity in part by imagining that a man falling from a roof could be at rest and in motion at the same time.)
Simultaneously pursuing the benefits of the founder’s mentality and the benefits of scale is a classic Janusian endeavor. To create a great insurgency that fuels their brands, founders have to ignore industry boundaries and embrace the notion of limitless horizons, but to acquire the benefits of scale they also have to focus tenaciously on the core business and the hard, detailed work of continuous improvement. Both of those things are fundamental to a successful scale insurgency, and they are fundamentally at odds.
Likewise, insurgent brands need to embrace chaos, so that they can mobilize and demobilize resources rapidly to win and maintain customers. But large brands derive much of their strength from fixed routines and behaviors, and from riding down the experience curve. The leaders of scale insurgents—companies such as LEGO Group, Yonghui Superstores, Olam International, Haier, Amazon, L Brands, Google, and IKEA—have adopted Janusian ways of thinking about these competing demands, and this allows them to become more than just the sum of their parts. They have managed to forge new amalgams of both scale and speed.