2 posts from February 2011

“Call me Ishmael.” Thoughts about Logos and Brand Marketing

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick opens with one of the most famous lines in American literature, “Call me Ishmael.”  The novel is also the inspiration for the logo of Howard Schultz’s Starbucks coffee empire. The siren acknowledges both the seafaring nature of the historic coffee business and the irresistible lure of Starbucks coffee.  Moreover, Starbuck was the first mate on the story’s legendary sailing ship Pequod.

To mark its 40th anniversary, Starbucks has redesigned the familiar logo, removing both the name “Starbucks” and the reference to “Coffee.” As a recent Knowledge@Wharton article asks: Logo Overhaul: Will Customers Still Answer the Siren Call of Starbucks? The simple answer is of course they will, because Starbucks is a loved brand that offers a social–coffee experience that few businesses have been able to develop or sustain.

My view is that redesigning logos is generally a poor investment and a distraction.  Logo redevelopment may be justified under the flag of re-branding, changing business mix or internal leadership; all are examples of over-intellectualization of what is needed to create and sustain a great brand.

To me, a brand is the bundle of attributes that a product or services promises and delivers every day to its customers. Add to that definition that it does so profitably, which in turn means the brand’s message is meaningful, clear, interruptive and memorable and its pricing is value-based.

The Wharton article is worth reading because it embodies a rich discussion of issues to be considered when engaging in any brand development or redevelopment initiative.  Some key considerations covered in the article include:  

  1. Significant shift in strategic business mix: Starbucks’ business mix has changed, and will continue to evolve, beyond coffee, so management apparently believed the “Starbucks Coffee” moniker was limiting.
  2. International growth: Global expansion made translating the Starbucks message into different cultures and languages challenging. The goal was to simplify. Apparently management argued that the symbolism of the name “Starbucks” would not translate well.
  3. Dilution of brand message: By not standing for what made a business great to begin with or what management believes will make a great business, customers will not understand why the product or service claims are uniquely the best choice and thus consider supporting competitive brands. Clearly, company management decided to accept this risk.
  4. Backlash by loyal brand fan. The article cites a study by Vikas Mittal from Rice University’s Jones School that supports this conclusion. Backlash to change is a risk that must be considered carefully as businesses expand geographically and culturally.

Strategically there are other options to logo redesign and the management distraction caused by this activity in managing brands. The first and most significant principle of branding is to engage current and prospective customers.  One must question whether there is a significant flaw in the existing bundle of communications and deliverables that limits growth and/or greater opportunity in a strategic shift of all brand-related elements.

In my experience, logo design is one of the most over-emphasized brand development elements and one of the least significant attributes of brand experience. My recommendation is to treat, and invest in, this activity with the limited weight it deserves in the total brand decision-building program.

 

Vision Without Action is a Daydream. Action Without Vision is a Nightmare.

Over the last several weeks executives from both Fortune 500 and mid-market companies, in talking about limits to top performance, said the big barrier to their personal and team success was not understanding where their company was going or what the Big Idea was. 

It’s the vision thing. 

Vision is often hard to define but starts with the leaders of organizations.  P&G’s vision states, in part: “We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers.” Its vision is anchored in improving the lives of its customers.  Similarly, Wal-Mart’s vision focuses on consumers:  “The values that guide our decisions and our leadership are the 3 Basic Beliefs: • Respect for the Individual • Service to our Customers • Striving for Excellence. “ 

Where is this going? Ideas create exponential value, up or down.  Ray Kurzweil, a well known inventor, futurist and author, argues that because technology is growing exponentially, the future we will experience is not linear. Just look at current events in Egypt if you want confirmation of exponential progression of ideas from thought to action.  Using the Internet, a small group of activists has quickly mobilized millions to protest. 

Management has to think in this new dimension. The rate of change has become exponential. Vision, translated into action, creates monumental change.  For example, Rupert Murdoch’s recent launch of “The Daily” promises a revolutionary new publication exclusively on the iPad.  My sense is that this project is going to change the publishing industry by disseminating news to consumers on a profitable basis. The Daily integrates text, video, audio and tactile experience into news. The vision is that the under-35 audience gets its media from the Internet, not print or TV. Hence, make news and information available where people look for it, in ways that consumers are willing to pay. Fifteen million iPad users will determine if the vision translates into reality. 

On the other hand, action without vision has the potential for disaster. The GM Volt electric car illustrates the idea. One can argue there is a dream of a green planet, but the Volt exercise is only possible to the extent that government subsidies prevent financial failure. 

Without a unifying vision of what “green” means, establishing the concept in consumers’ beliefs and enabling a process to build infrastructure are not possible; thus, individual projects are destined for economic failure.  If “green” is the real vision and not a day dream, it seems to me that government and companies would sponsor rapid development of technologies such as thorium-based nuclear energy because the technology is particularly well-suited for use in molten-salt reactors, or MSRs, eliminating the risk of meltdown. Simultaneously, leaders in the US would exploit the natural advantages our country has with coal and natural gas to facilitate a “green” vision that is economically viable. These are viable infrastructure-based energy sources that enable low cost electricity, which in turn would catalyze exponential innovation in battery design and manufacture, thus leading to rapid adoption of electric vehicles at the expense of petroleum-based fuels. 

We all dream of a better life, a stronger company and a fulfilling family. It’s the vision of making those dreams happen that translate thought to strategies, strategies to plans, and plans to action. Sharing those visions and plans inspires those around us to join, multiplying results exponentially.