.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;} Making Sense: e-Digest of Brand Thinking

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Some names are best forgotten

Sophie Howe, a Toronto-based freelance copywriter, emailed this for inclusion in the Talking to Yourself file. "The City of Toronto recently unveiled a new brand and logo - after the unveiling, the shrieks and howls could be heard far and wide (well, as much as Torontonians actually shriek and howl about anything.) Even the mayor has derided the resulting brand and logo as indefensible and an embarrassment."

Want to know what the flap is all about? Sophie sent along a couple of informative links:

Toronto Unlimited by London Unlimited
Toronto: Take Two

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Navel gazing at LEGO

Fifty years ago, LEGO put some plastic bricks in a box and introduced a new system of play -- one that would ultimately garner a 10 percent share of the global toy market. Of course, that was in the days before PCs, Xboxes and licensed super-heroes. I remember those days well. It was the 1970s, and our seven-year-old son would pull out his box of LEGOs nearly every day to build something fun or weird or ingenious.

Fast forward to the 1990s. The world began to change for LEGO. Play was no longer a creative endeavor for children; it became entertainment. Sales of LEGO products started to decline. In 2004, the LEGO Group reported a $328 million annual loss, the worst in its history (as reported in the June 2005 issue of BUSINESS 2.0). What's more, they're still looking for a buyer for their Legoland theme parks. Even minor things are not quite right. For instance,click "message board" on their Web site and you'll be greeted with a disappointing "Coming Soon - New and improved, super-amazing LEGO message boards."

LEGO's problem, summed up by CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, is a tighter consumer economy combined with a growing interest in consumer electronics such as MP3 players and mobile telephones. What an understatement. Christian Majgaard, a former senior manager at LEGO, claims that LEGO recognized a shift in the market, but "the eyes that see the 'spot on the radar screen' are not new."

In an article on the Zurich Financial Services Web site, Christian Majgaard went on to characterize LEGO's initial reaction (to the overall decline of the toy market) was somewhat skeptical. "Hollywood heroes are from 'sin city' so they are against our religion and PCs are not good for children because they sit still all day," he recalled. "As a result, LEGO concluded it was in the traditional market and although this market was shrinking, the company believed its products would resist the downward trend. They told themselves: 'we're doing OK.'"

So, what's the moral of this short tale? Christian Majgaard puts it best: "There is always a little bit of future out there, already happening and ready to be learned from." And, from LEGO's perspective, ready to be played with, too.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Your chance to define a brand

Nick Wreden is a Malaysia-based, self-described "brand futurist" who sends out an email newsletter every so often. His latest issue is about "Wikification," or as he defines it, "the process by which customers define brands based on the economic, experiential or emotional value they receive - represents the biggest force in branding today. Wikification is occurring on Intelliseek, Epinions and other feedback sites, message boards, viral emails and SMSs, water-cooler chat, and other peer-to-peer conversations."

Nick's Web site to read more about Wikification and other branding issues. It's well worth the trip.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A good brand to have in a war

Think of some top American brands. What names come to mind? Coca-Cola? Starbucks? Nike? Well, here's one you might have missed: The United States Marine Corps (USMC). Recently, I did some writing for the Marines' new Web site. I was struck by how perfect the USMC brand architecture was.

Here are some points to consider: First, the Marine Corps' brand heritage goes back to 1775 (way before Coca-Cola's). Second, the USMC brand has attained nothing less than cult status with its target audience ("Once a Marine, always a Marine"). Third, the Corps' ethos not only defines the Marine Corps, it separates it from the other branches of military service ("The Few. The Brave. The Marines."). Fourth, the Marine Corps offers their "customers"(recruits and potential recruits) an authentic experience: the "transformation" of a raw recruit into a Marine. Fifth, there are revered symbols and icons (like the Eagle, Globe & Anchor and the blood stripe on Dress Blues) that connect today's Marine with those who came before. Finally, there is the Marine slogan, Semper Fi (Always Faithful), which binds Marines together (as opposed to the Army's "Army of one" concept).

"The value of the USMC brand is strengthened by the fact that they have always remained true to who and what they are," says Monty Wyne, former Creative Director on the Marine Corps for J. Walter Thompson. "They have never changed their story."

Monty describes the Corps this way: "It's an elite group of men and women who have proven themselves worthy of the title Marine. The Marine Corps is a tough club to join and it's definitely not for everyone. What continues to add value to the brand are the young men and women who meet the difficult challenges of boot camp and become Marines."

Monty confessed that he did not write the famous Marine Corps slogan, "We're looking for a few good men." It originated during the Revolutionary War and was printed on early recruiting posters.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Maytag: Washing a brand down the drain

On June 1st, Haier, the top Chinese appliance maker, together with equity giants Bain Capital and The Blackstone Group, offered $1.28 billion potential bid for Maytag, the nation's No. 3 appliance maker. Haier's strategy, according to CNN/Money, is to use the Maytag brand to create brand equity for its products outside of China.

That's funny, because in the U.S., Maytag has virtually washed itself down the drain. As Michael V. Copeland describes it in the May 2005 issue of BUSINESS 2.0(prior to the Haier offer),

"In nearly all of its product lines, Maytag's market share has hit all-time lows. Its stock price fell 55 percent between April 2004 and April 2005, and customer satisfaction surveys rank Maytag near the bottom of the appliance heap. With sales flat, retailers starting to drop its products, and debt load weighing the company down, one analyst figures Maytag "is a 2-inch putt from bankruptcy."

So what happened to all that good Maytag quality and dependability? The Neptune front-loading washer. It started out as Maytag's flagship washer, but soon became an albatross. The Neptune didn't deliver on the Maytag brand promise; hell, it didn't even know there was a brand promise. I know this because our son bought us a Neptune for an anniversary present. We were all convinced from years of watching the Maytag Repair Man on TV that this was the top of the line, the best of the best. Maytag even gave us a special toll-free VIP number that only Neptune owners could use to call Maytag with questions or problems. Little did we realize that we would come to know that phone number by heart.

It started with the mildew smell; it nearly knocked you over whenever you opened the washer door. Then the mold showed up around the vinyl gasket. We called the special number, and they came out a changed something, cautioning us to only use powdered soap and to dry the inside of the washer with a towel when you're finished using it. Somehow, those didn't seem like factory-approved solutions. So we called the special number again, and they sent out another repair man who put another little part in. The mold and mildew grew steadily worse. I knew we had to take our problem to a higher level at Maytag.

I set my sights on CEO Ralph Hake. I looked for email addresses on the Maytag Web site. That gave me their email address protocol. Then I just plugged Ralph Hake in, and sent him a plea for help. I got a call that afternoon from one of Hake's "personal customer service" people. This time they were sending a big part to be installed. It didn't fix the problem. So eventually Maytag gave us a brand new and IMPROVED Neptune washer (prorated, of course). I must say, it has preformed better. But that didn't stop me joining a class-action suit against Maytag for inflicting the Neptune on unsuspecting American consumers.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

McDonald's dressing up its brand

CNN/Money.com reports today that according to a report in AdAge.com, McDonald's has asked Tommy Hilfiger, P. Diddy, Russell Simmons and other urban youth fashion designers to turn McDonald's drab store uniform into hip street wear.

Bill Whitman, a spokesman for McDonald's, told CNN/Money that the company has held "informal" discussions with a brand imaging consultant on a potential uniform makeover for McDonald's staff.

"The discussion is on how to enhance the uniform to better reflect the essence of our advertising and marketing efforts and to create uniforms that are more contemporary and in line with the spirit of our 'forever young, forever fun' campaign," Whitman said.

For me, that brand promise begins to break down as soon as I interact with one of workers at the counter. Give me better food and a better attitude, and I'll come back.

McDonald's Fun Fact:

Did you know that McDonald's is the world's largest employer of high school and college students? New uniforms for them could cost up to $80 million.

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