It is incredible what fresh perspective on your strategy can bring to a problem.
Sitting in a Strategy discussion earlier today an English colleague – they’re always English aren’t they? – leaned forward and asked this rather pointed question;
“What do you think our competition wished we’d do?”
As strategy folks we spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating what we should do. Seldom, if ever, asking what it is our competition fears most about us. Or, as they say, maybe that’s just me.
The point being is that simple question inevitably leads to a discussion about brand equities.
The one’s we know are working. The one’s that need to be retired.
And, most importantly, the one’s we’ve gotten so familiar with that we’ve begun to take them for granted.
And, Dear Reader, it is exactly those equities that our fiercest competitors secretly wish we’d kill. Or keep ignoring.
Case in point. Consider the joyous celebrations at Pepsico HQ when Coca-Cola decided to launch New Coke in 1985. Concerned by flagging sales, and blind test taste research that highlighted consumers preferred a sweeter taste, Atlanta launched a reformulated product and call it New Coke. A reformulated taste? Really? One of the best loved products in the world and you chose to reformulate? If you think I’m joking about “best loved” read the opening paragraph of this ode to Coca-Cola. Consumer backlash was immediate. Consumers boycotted the new product en masse. The press had a field day. Having spent millions to bring New Coke to market, the company was forced to spend millions more bringing back Coke Classic.
Next to removing the colour red from their packaging – a more recent debacle – actually changing the taste of Coca-Cola was probably the move their competitors most wished would happen.
Of course, not all screw-ups are of such monumental scale.
But what makes seemingly sane and well-educated folk abandon core marketing principles – like protecting your brand equities – and go rogue?
You’ve been there. Mountains of research. Months in the trenches getting to a decent spot. Creative development. Creative testing. The GDP of Brazil to produce the work. Then barely in market a few months and the executive team is pining for “what’s next”. Just because they’ve seen the work a million times – and some of your media has purposefully been bought to ensure the CEO has seen it driving to his golf club – they presume Joe Public is as sick of it as they are.
The market is relentless and unforgiving. We all get that. However, abandoning initiatives because you’ve not seen overnight success and staggering profits is insane. I’ve personally seen defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by marketers who bottled it (another glorious English phrase) too early.
Again, consider if removing your new product or stopping a new ad campaign isn’t exactly what your competition is secretly praying you’ll do.
And the most frequent reason for abandoning core equities?
Vanity and Ego
Yip. Vanity and ego. Two electives I don’t remember as part of any Strategic Marketing course I’ve attended.
In all seriousness, the number of short-lived and ill-considered efforts that parallel the arrival of a new CMO or executive is legendary. Global agency overhauls, new ad campaign launches or the classic logo and brand redesigns all that defy logic.
The subtext always points to the same thing.
A desire to “shake things up”, “make a mark”, “get rid of the old and dusty”.
Consider the euphoria felt by The Gap’s competition when they decided to contemporize their logo in an attempt to be “sexy, hip and cool” – it lasted a week.
IBM actually reaped the benefit of rival PwC Consulting relaunching as Monday – yes, they actually rebranded themselves as a day of the week. The subsequent plummet in value of the new entity allowed IBM to acquire them several months later – for a fraction of the price it would’ve taken to purchase a recognized brand (like PwC Consulting).
Coca-Cola likely enjoyed a snigger or two when arch-rival Pepsi paid Peter Arnell, not once but twice, to design new logos for them. Redesigning the iconic Tropicana packaging was roundly lambasted. The redesigned Pepsi logo – titled Breathtaking – was anything but.
Folks, your brand equities are gold. They’re a precious commodity and your ultimate weapon. Don’t fall into the trap of letting boredom, impatience, hubris, vanity or ego dictate your strategy. That’s exactly what your competition is secretly hoping you’ll do.
Note to colleagues; if I start all meetings moving forward with “what is it our competition secretly wished we do?” don’t be surprised.