Archive for June, 2010

Saving Lincoln

June 28, 2010

The Wall Street Journal today has an interesting article on Ford’s efforts to revive the fading Lincoln brand.

Turning around Lincoln is not a hopeless task but it is certainly a challenge.

The good news is that Lincoln is a rather well-defined brand; it stands for something distinct and unique.  Lincoln’s are stable, solid and respectable.  The Lincoln Town Car is almost an icon.

The issue is that this image doesn’t seem to resonate.  Indeed, Lincoln executives are phasing out the Town Car and trying to reposition the brand.

My fear is that in repositioning Lincoln the brand will become just like every other luxury car brand, only not quite as good.  I suspect Lincoln won’t ever measure up to BMW on performance or Lexus on perceived reliability.

I think Ford might be going at this all wrong.  Why not let Lincoln be Lincoln?  Why not make Lincoln the most reliable, sturdy, respectable brand of cars around?  Why not make Lincoln the best brand of cars for executive transportation?

Being different and unique is priceless.  Embracing points of difference is usually a better approach than trying to be like everyone else.

Motorola’s Branding Dilemma

June 24, 2010

Motorola is apparently going ahead with plans to split up the company. This move will raise a large and rather difficult branding question.

The proposed split with separate the handheld division from the rest of the company. The handheld division produces cell phones and smart phones such as the Droid.  The rest of the company manufacturers public safety radios, handheld scanners and telecommunications equipment. At the moment, the handheld division isn’t profitable; all the profits come from radios and scanners and such.

The big question: what happens to the Motorola brand after the split?

Letting both companies use the Motorola brand is the logical solution, but this is not an ideal approach. Who then owns the brand? Who decides what is ok, and what isn’t ok? What will Motorola stand for, anyway?

Giving the Motorola brand to the handheld division seems like the best solution to some since the handheld division is consumer facing. But this ignores the fact that the Motorola brand has enormous value in the radio and scanner area.

It isn’t clear how powerful the Motorola brand is in the consumer space. Motorola hasn’t been an industry leader in handheld devices for many years; Apple and Blackberry dominate, with Nokia strong in international markets. Still, Motorola is the company that invented the cell phone. It is hard to imagine the handheld division walking away from the brand and adopting a new name.

I’m not certain how Motorola will resolve this issue. I am quite certain that letting both companies use the brand won’t work well in the long-term.

Motivation, President Obama and BP

June 18, 2010

People aren’t motivated by insults.

Criticizing someone feels good, but it isn’t likely to result in a behavior change. This is why companies selling weight loss products don’t go around pointing fingers, “Hey, you there. You really do look fat. Put the donut down now.” It is also why people in the fashion industry focus on the great new look, not making fun of people wearing the old style.

I see this with students all the time. If I spend a lot of time explaining all the reasons why a paper isn’t perfect, students tend to tune me out. Sometimes they just get mad at me. If I highlight some of the positives, however, or focus on ways to make things better, they often pay attention and make improvements.

Most people like to believe they are on the right track and are looking for ways to be better.

So I’m not sure why President Obama has decided the best way to deal with the oil spill is to attack BP. This week he said something like this: “You folks at BP are either totally incompetent or criminals. You deserve to be punished, and I am personally going to lock you away for a long time. And Tony, Mr. CEO, you are the worst of the bunch. You have a bad haircut, too.”

This approach might be right if the problem was fixed and the only issues were working through the cleanup and determining the liability. But that is not the situation at all; the leak continues with no end in sight.

It appears that the people who will fix this leak all work for BP, which means we need the BP team to do great work. Declaring them incompetent and lazy will not make them work harder or inspire them to come up with new ideas. At the moment we should look for ways to support the people fixing the leak, not criticize them.

I had a leak in my basement the other day; a repair to one part of the plumbing system apparently caused a leak somewhere else. When the plumber arrived, I didn’t immediately attack him, shouting with indignation:   “This is an outrage. You are totally incompetent. I am going to hold you personally responsible for this. I am going to kick someone’s a__.” Instead, I thanked him for coming quickly, asked if he needed anything and then got out of his way.

Perhaps our leaders in Washington should spend a bit more time working with BP to stop the leak and a bit less time ranting and raving about the company’s incompetence.

Prediction: The BP Brand Won’t Survive

June 9, 2010

There are huge unresolved questions around the uncapped well in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • When will it stop?
  • How long will it take to repair the environmental damage?
  • What will the total cost be to BP?
  • Will the BP brand survive?

For anyone interested in brands this last question is a particularly interesting one to think about.

Brands are the associations linked to a name, mark or symbol.  These associations can be positive or negative; a brand can help you or hurt you.  An unknown brand is better than a brand with strong negative associations.

I suspect BP has gotten more negative press than any brand in the history of the world.  The disaster has generated a stream of negative stories; it has gone on and on.  These stories have fed the vast global media machine.  People all over the world are writing about BP, blogging about BP and twittering about BP.  And all of this is negative.

When BP plugs the well and finishes the cleanup, the company will then have to make an important branding decision.  What should be done with the severely damaged BP brand?  Should the company try to rebuild it?  Or walk away?

My bet is that the company will drop the BP brand.  This might occur through an acquisition, where another company acquires BP and drops the tainted BP brand.  Or it might occur through a simple name change.

And this would be the right decision.  It will be virtually impossible to create positive associations around BP.  The media coverage has been so extensive and so widespread that the BP brand will always be tainted.

If BP caps the well in August look for the BP brand to fade away in 2011.

The Starbucks-Seattle’s Best Brand Portfolio

June 4, 2010

Starbucks is making some big moves with its brand portfolio, dramatically elevating the role of Seattle’s Best Coffee.

Executives at Starbucks first announced plans to dramatically expand Seattle’s Best and then rolled out a rebranding effort.

The expansion for Seattle’s Best is dramatic; executives are planning to reach 30,000 locations within a year, up from the current 3,000 locations.  This increase will come from outlets such as Burger King, AMC Theatres and Borders.  Seattle’s Best will also go after commercial coffee machines, those devices you sometimes see in an office that produce really terrible coffee..

The rebranding is even more dramatic.  The old Seattle’s Best logo is gone, replaced by a modern, subtle and minimal look that is stylistically similar to the new Pepsi logo, the new Kraft Foods logo and the (terrible) Tropicanna logo.

Seattle's Best Coffee logos: old and new

Will this all work?  It might.  I can certainly see the objective here: growth.  And I salute Starbucks for using a second brand to grow instead of further stretching and diluting the Starbucks brand.

The challenge is that Seattle’s Best is now becoming another fine but undifferentiated brand of mainstream coffee, a bit like Folgers and Maxwell House.  And it is tough to command strong margins without some meaningful differentiation.

My prediction:  Starbucks will succeed in building distribution for Seattle’s Best but profits won’t amount to much.  If Starbucks the company does well it will be because Starbucks the brand does well.


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