Wednesday 30 October 2019

Immersed, wrapped or trapped?

The latest theme or buzzword from Interbrand to characterise their Best Global Brands is "Iconic Moves." It's nothing to do with John Travolta, though, rather that brands today are operating in a world where "people are moving faster than businesses". I agree with some of Interbrand's issues with Brand Positioning as an idea. It does imply a couple of things that don't work so well in today's world of brands - the concept of well-defined categories as well as the notion of static rigidity. However, I wouldn't go as far as to say that "positioning is dead" - rather that brands should take the metaphor of the mobile searchlight these days instead of the lighthouse.

The king of Iconic Moves, for Interbrand is Amazon. Over the years, these include the 2005 launch of Amazon Prime, the 2007 launch of Kindle, the 2014 launch of Echo (Alexa) and the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods.

But: I wonder - why is Interbrand celebrating this stuff? Presumably because Amazon is No. 3 brand on their list, with a gob-smacking growth of +24%,  and they feel duty-bound to. But outside the impressive statistics and Iconic Moves, there are other stories.

People feeling they've been tricked or trapped into signing up for Amazon Prime.
Amazon taking a 60%+ cut, putting many small players out of business.
What used to be a super opportunity to review books turning into a annoying ratings system.
And that's before you've gone behind the scenes.

And on a personal note, I complained to amazon when a number of tacky-looking soft-porn books appeared under one of my children's books as "sponsored products related to this item." I asked for an explanation in what way these tawdry titles could be "related to" a book targeted at 9 - 12s. I have heard nothing in reply.

Why is Amazon continually held up as a paragon of branding? What Amazon is about is immersing customers in a complete shopping/lifestyle/search/payment ecosystem. There are now over 100m Amazon Prime subscribers in the US alone.

Amazon want to "be the world's most customer-centric company: to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they want to buy online."

"Customer-centric" sounds all well and good, but there's a huge difference between that and "people-centric". It's not just semantics. Amazon couldn't give two hoots about its business customers, or its staff. In Amazon's case, "customer-centric" is looking more and more like the customer trapped in the middle of the ecosystem, with no choice, helpless and unable to get out, while the vultures (or eagles) feed.

Amazon can go on making Iconic Moves because the customer sure as heck can't.

Monday 21 October 2019

Aufschnitt 4: How brands are changing 1999

My latest offer from the cold cuts counter is a very special one. It's not technically a cutting, because it's one of my very own charts from twenty years ago, back in the last millennium. I apologise for the way it looks - there are no fancy graphics, cute icons or co-ordinated colours. The title is everything but snappy: How Brands are Changing - Positioning Spectrum.

The idea here was that different brands take up different positions on this spectrum when communicating. Some just shout in a loud and cheerful voice that they're here while others try and press-gang you into their mission to change the world. In the middle are a whole host of functional and emotional benefits and attributes of the sort beloved by onion-builders.

My point was that a brand doesn't need to have all of this - well, it probably does, but you don't have to sit through ten hours of Post-It deluged workshops to define it all.

I'm quite begoggled that the word "experience" is there, and that what's sitting under "mission/philosophy" could quite happily pass for a description of "purpose" today.

I honestly can't remember if I made this up, or whether I pinched it from somewhere but nevertheless:

Here you go - start planning like it's 1999.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Purpose Onion

It's inevitable, I expect, with Purpose proliferating all over the world of marketing and business, that we should brace ourselves for a plague of Purpose Models to replace the crop of Brand Onions, which are slowly slipping off the boardroom walls and mouldering in corners.

It's over ten years since marketeers and consultants started raving about Simon Sinek and his Golden Circle. (Guilty) Although these days, I look at the Golden Circle and see it for what it is: an onion with a big "Why?" bunged in the middle.

In the past, personal development and coaching has borrowed from the world of brands and marketing. But now this field has leapt ahead (yes, I know a leaping field is a slightly tricky mental image) so far that the marketeers are borrowing back.

Here's an example of something that's been borrowed from an untranslatable Japanese concept and twisted into shape for personal development. It's just a small step from there to reapply it to a brand or a corporation. I can understand the appeal - it's not an onion, more like a lotus blossom, and has the hygge factor of an untranslatable word.

But besides the fact that brands and people are not interchangeable entities, which is my hang-up about Lovebrands and Brand Loyalty, there's another issue with these Purpose Models. Whether an onion or a lotus bloom, the thing that sits in the middle is doing just that. It's sitting, trapped, suffocating from all the layers and blah around it. Purpose should be actionable, something that directs, a navigation needle.

By the way, if I try to squeeze myself into a lotus blossom, all the petals fall apart. Probably another slightly tricky mental image.

Monday 7 October 2019

Sober October?

Could there be a better way to celebrate the end of summer than a drop of something rich and red? As marketeers seem to be developing a conscience these days, for some, the wine might taste even better if it comes from Garçon Wines .

"Sustainable wine packaging solutions" may not sound that exciting, but just take a look at the Eco Flat Wine Bottle:

The company has been going since 2016 and originally designed their wine bottle to fit through a UK letterbox. Of course, it has additional benefits. While respecting tradition in terms of its proportions and colour, it's 40% spatially smaller and 87% lighter than a typical glass bottle. It's made of pre-existing plastic and recyclable, so it is doing its bit to offset the climate crisis and reflect changes in people's attitudes and behaviour.

The traditional glass wine bottle was invented in the 17th century, but selling wine in bottles is a relatively recent thing, dating only from the early 20th century. Before that, you came along with your own container and wine was sold direct from the barrel. The new bottle shares this "disadvantage" in that the wine only maintains its quality for around a year.

Although the design and virtuous part of me likes the flat bottle, I'm afraid that the hedonist in me feels a bit yuk about it. But then again ... I don't say no to wine boxes for quaffing wine, or plastic bottles in aeroplanes (although I draw the line at tins). And, I'm sure ten years ago or so, I was very snooty about screw-tops, but completely accept them now.

But what a thing to virtue-signal with if you can't quite face Sober October!

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Brilliant or bullsh*t?

I've worked on the client side, the agency side and somewhere in the middle, as a consultant. And I still feel these conflicting personas, rather like the Good Cop and the Bad Cop, leaping around in me trying to gain supremacy when I see communication ideas.

Take the recent Burger King "Meltdown" campaign in the UK. The agency side of me is terribly excited about this one. It ticks all the boxes and then some. Where to start? Well, the idea originally came up as a result of a petition from two eco-conscious schoolgirls, Ella and Caitlin, aged 7 and 9. It's big and bold and involving and exciting. It's about actually doing something (people donating unwanted toys, Burger King working with up-cycling partners to convert the unwanted plastic into play areas and trays) rather than just blabbing on and empty virtue-signalling. The execution, from the melting logo to the giant sculpture, is terrific.

And it takes a good pot-shot at McDonald's in tune with the brand's recent edgy attitude campaigns.

My agency side is practically having a meltdown, screaming "what's not to like?" at my less easily-enthused bah-humbug client side.

I don't know. A year or two ago I might have found this original. But now it feels, however good the execution, rather like an opportunistic stunt. One of these. Does it come from the core of the brand? Not really. And sniping at the main competitor merely deflects from the real problem. As pointed out in the article linked above, the campaign broke on the same day that Burger King was presented with an award by Greenpeace for "flame-grilling the Amazon." Perhaps the "Meltdown" campaign name and logo are a little insensitive?

I wonder what our junior eco-warriors think of that?

Talking of which, I'm won't be surprised by a flood of Greta Thunberg wannabes and Fearless Girls appearing in forthcoming brand communications. It has already started, for example, in this campaign for Zürich's public transport (admittedly timed to coincide with Ms Thunberg's visit to the city). The ads are telling us that if we take the tram or trolleybus, we're a little bit Greta.

I'm not convinced there's such a thing.