Posts Tagged 'Iconic Branding'

Is Marketing being marginalized in B-school?

The world has changed dramatically in the past 30 years.  Consumers and customers have changed dramatically in the past 30 years.  Media has changed dramatically in less than 10 years.  The actual practice of marketing, by corporate marketers, is changing as people adapt to the new realities — some more successfully than others.

But what hasn’t changed is the most popular theory of marketing — brand positioning — and the way that it is taught in B-School.

Several professors, including Wharton’s Gerry Wind, have now said that the teaching and study of marketing is so narrow that it is in danger of being marginalized at business schools.  The title of their article gives it all away: “Is Marketing Academia Losing It’s Way?”   While they don’t single out brand positioning in particular, they make the very clear point that just at the time when new theories are marketing are most needed, they are least likely to be found in the great universities.

There is an alarming and growing gap between the interests, standards, and priorities of academic mar- keters and the needs of marketing executives operat- ing in an ambiguous, uncertain, fast-changing, and complex marketspace.

There are now several alternative theoretical models to replace the traditional brand positioning approach.  Only one of them was developed by an academics.  The four I am most familiar with — and which are true frameworks — are 1) Professor Doug Holt’s Iconic Branding; 2) Marc Gobe’s Emotional Branding; 3) Larry Light and Joan Kiddon’s Brand Journalism which they created for McDonald’s.  The fourth is our own Narrative Branding approach.

The article was published in The Journal of Marketing last summer.  A copy of it is here.


Designing the butterfly logo for Microsoft’s MSN

Why does Microsoft’s MSN have a butterfly for a logo?  There’s an answer for that is an interview with Michael Thibodeau and I in the recently published, “Taming the Search and Switch Consumer” by Jill Griffin.

In the interview we discuss the strategic need for a new brand architecture and why Michael’s brilliant design is so strategically on the mark.  It was the right metaphor at the right time for the brand.Thibodeau&Ringer_TamingCustomers_2009


Is GM a “ghost” brand?

So for a few months I have been pitching the idea that GM should be renamed The Chevrolet Corporation.  

And at first it seemed like GM was determined to continue down the path of the recent past.  Over the past 6 or 7 years there has been a concerted effort to create more meaning and purpose around the GM brand.  It began to show up on products as the badge of excellence.  There was advertising around GM itself.  Even the logo was updated.

And then the company deflated along with the rest of the economy.  The brand portfolio was streamlined, as whole areas of business were sold off.  The strongest brands remained.

And yet GM was still there, too.  It was a catch-basin of bad reputation.  More to the point, the cost of maintaining an additional GM brand goes against the greater economies that the company is trying to achieve.

So my observation that they would be best served by replacing the GM brand with The Chevrolet Corporation did not seem to be an option they were actually considering as the company publicly announced their plans.

And then…

And then I saw this in the NYTimes about how GM is dropping the “GM” logo, their “badge of excellence” from all new vehicles.

Metaphors mean business – or – If “G” is for Gatorade, then is “F” for financials?


The rebrand of Gatorade was launched at the beginning of this year and now the results are in.  Verdict?  Not good.  In Thursday’s WSJ it was reported that a large drop in sales of Gatorade is behind Pepsico’s 6% drop in volume during the second quarter.  

This is the 3rd time that an Arnell Group’s redesign has proven very costly to Pepsico.  It’s a classic case of branding getting in the way of business.  In fairness the first case, the redesign of the Pepsi logo, it was more of a public relations issue than a design question.  People said that it was too similar to the Obama campaign logo and the justifications provided by Arnell did not successfully address the underlying issue.  The cost was to the brand’s reputation. Over time the Obama similarity questions will fade away (at least outside of the branding community) and I believe that the Pepsi Smile will ultimately become a successful identity.  That is because a strong new metaphor — the smile — has been woven into the Pepsi narrative.  Drink a Pepsi and smile!

The second was the redesign of the Tropicana brand.  In that case a strong metaphor, the straw in the orange, was replaced by a beautifully shot glass of orange juice.  It was beautiful and well executed but lacking in meaning.  It was an error that should have been picked up in well-designed market research that probes into metaphors.  A typical focus group could easily miss the deeper issue.  In this case the cost was both to the brand’s reputation and an actual monetary loss for returning to the old, stronger, metaphors on packaging.  All of the new work was a needless expense.

What is interesting about the third case?  It is the one most clearly identified as a substantial financial cost to the brand and company.  That was the underlying story in the recent earnings report. 

So what went wrong?

The answer is simple.  The redesign of Gatorade replaced a strong metaphor for a weak metaphor.  

Here is the previous Gatorade design.  The central metaphor is the lightening bolt.  Heavy handed?  Yes but you cannot miss it.   It is Zeus’s lightening bolt, the symbol of the powerful gods. Rich stuff for co-creating meaning.  The old campaigns showed the old metaphors clearly — the victorious warriors, the gods of sport, celebrating with Gatorate.  

If you believe that ancient mythology is long forgotten and therefore that bolt is unknown, consider that Disney’s movie Hercules was released in 1997 and retold that story again for a new generation.  And the popular Percy Jackson series started with The Lightening Thief — which is about to be released as a major motion picture.


And here is the redesign.  The dominant metaphor here is “G”.  The name has been de-emphasize to the point of being nearly invisible.  And the lightening bolt has been demoted to a secondary graphic element.  

Gatorade redesign on packaging

What does “G” mean?  That was the question raised by the new advertising.  Gifted, glorious, golden and the emblem of a warrior are some of the answers provided in the advertising campaign.  Here’s John Swansburg’s take on the campaign in Slate.    In sum, the metaphor of quenching the thirst of warriors has been replaced by people in street clothes talking about “G” as the symbol of the warrior and not the lightening bolt.  

For the average person “G” has little meaning.  What do you co-create with G? Certainly it is not associated with winning teams and sweating athletes.  What might seem a subtle shift in emphasis to update the brand was really a major shift in the metaphor.  And that has proven costly.

In sum, the redesign of Pepsi, adding the smile metaphor, will probably be successful over time.  It was a pr fumble, nothing more.  The redesign of Tropicana and Gatorade show what happens with the opposite situation, the replacement of a strong metaphor with a much weaker one.  The cost has been real, not just in image.  Every business person and every creative person should memorize this line from the poet Robert Frost

Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.

Can a marketing book be fiction?

Mike Prentice sent along an AdAge article about the Top 10 Marketing and Media Books of All Time. There was that moment of anticipation while I waited for the page to load, sort of like when waiting for Tom Hanks to open the envelope at the Oscars.

Right up there in the #4 slot was the novel “e” by Mark Beaumont.  That’s right, a novel.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love novels.  I even have my graduate degree in Creative Writing. But does one belong in a list of Top 10 Marketing Books?

It worries me when a profession needs to look to fiction for guidance.  

It also worries me that the number 1 book is Positioning by Mr. Trout and Mr. Ries.  But it does not surprise me.  The Positioning method is so widely adopted that it’s validity is not even questioned.  Or is it?  

Truth is that the majority of marketers are looking for a breakthrough method that is more effective than brand positioning.  That is what we heard in our survey of over CMOs at over 100 corporations.  

The alternative methods of marketing are not well known, which explains why brand positioning continues to be so dominant.  This blog is one way of contributing to the marketing conversation by sharing how Narrative Branding is one of those alternative methods of marketing. Marc Gobe’s Emotional Branding and Doug Holt’s Iconic Branding are also well thought through alternatives to brand positioning.

Now back to that AdAge list…Can we at least substitute “Waiting for Godot” in place of “e”?  Or the brilliant movie “Putney Swope”?  I know, I know, a play and a movie ain’t a book…

The 4 methodologies of branding

Sometimes an idea becomes so well-known and widely held that people don’t even consciously recognize it as an idea but simply take it for granted.  The underlying assumptions are no longer questioned.  The idea passes from theory to law.  Consider gravity.  Before Sir Isaac Newton, people accepted that pendulums slow down and that two objects may bounce off of each other.  They were facts, nothing more.  Newton saw a set of fundamental principles behind those facts.

Over time, Newton’s theory became “laws”.  They were seen as sufficient to explain the world around us.  And for many centuries the underlying assumptions were no longer questioned.  Eventually physicists identified some special situations in which Newton’s laws could not explain the observable phenomena.  New theories of physics were developed, several of which are competing with each other.  Space-time physics, string theory, big-bang — all are theories that are vying for our attention and elevation into laws.

The same is true for branding.  For many years, brand positioning was the preeminent theory of branding.  From this theory grew a method for defining, creating and managing brands.   It has several different labels such as Mind Share or USP but those are fundamentally the same method built on the same theory.  It was popularized by Mr. Trout and Mr. Ries in articles and books.  It was widely adopted in academia, ad agencies and corporations.  At least two generations of marketers have known of almost nothing else.

Along the way the way special situations cropped up in which the brand positioning method was not sufficient to explain the success or failure of a particular brand.   So there was tinkering with the brand positioning method, adding a new twist here and there along the way.  But the underlying theory was no longer in question.  And the underlying assumptions were unquestioned, too.  Perhaps the best know superstructure — and most complex — was developed by David Aaker and his co-authors in a number of books such as Building Strong Brands.

Beginning in the mid-1990s several academics and consultants started to recognize more and more situations in which brand positioning was not working as it was meant to.  Instead of adding more complexity to the brand positioning method, they decided to opt out.  They began to question the theory itself.

Today there are 3 additional methods for defining, creating and managing brands, along with brand positioning  The first  method is Emotional Branding, popularized by the wonderfully brilliant Marc Gobe.  The second is Iconic Branding, which was formalized by Professor Douglas Holt formerly of Harvard and current at Oxford.  And the third is Narrative Branding (which is, by the way, also our trademark term) that was developed by me and Michael Thibodeau.

(In this list of the 4 methods of branding I am deliberately excluding some highly specialized methods created by individual companies for their own purposes.  The most famous of these is Brand Journalism, created by Larry Light when he was the CMO of McDonald’s.  Because this is proprietary to McDonald’s, it is not available to other companies.   It is like a hothouse plant, known to survive in the special environment but not tested out in the greater world.)

The questions about brand positioning have only grown over time.  Today the method and theory of brand positioning are being challenged by marketers at major corporations around the world.  In our recent study we found that  nearly 2/3rds of senior marketers are looking for breakthrough methods that are more effective than brand positioning (source: JupiterResearch/Verse Group study 11/08).

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 29 other subscribers