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Brand Decision Mistakes: The High Cost of Brand Reversals

Brand decision mistakes happen.

We saw it decades ago with New Coke. More recently with the Gap.  And most recently, Netflix reversed a highly unpopular brand decision after realizing their once successful branding strategies had been tone-deaf to the customers who had made their brand a success.

Brand Decision

How much do these reversals cost companies? The protests and general ridicule that erupted upon Netflix’s announcement that they were separating their DVD and streaming services were immediately everywhere. The new name for the DVD service, Qwikster, took the brunt of the punishment, however this was backed by a strong sense of customer betrayal. Customer defections, according to yesterday’s earning report, surpassed 800,000, due largely to unpopular price increases, but accelerated by this announcement.

The source of these feelings and actions came down to two justifiable points:  1) Netflix seemed to be putting its business priorities ahead of the needs of its customers, and  2) Netflix was trying to get out of the DVD rental business as fast as it could.  Reid Hastings’ letter to customers said as much when he proclaimed:

“We realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.”

This is what we would call “sacrificial lamb” branding.  By splitting the DVD business off, giving it a lowbrow name, and offering customers less for their money than they had received before, Netflix was signaling how little it now cares for the business. Having a different website with a different name would, hopefully, allow Netflix to disavow DVD rentals without tarnishing their own name.

Putting the business before the brand obviously did not work for Netflix, and it remains to be seen whether their brand reversal can repair the customer damage. What is clear, is instead of looking at pigeonholed brands like Borders and AOL when making their future plans, Netflix should have considered those brands that have successfully led customers along major brand transitions, notably Amazon and Apple.

Under astute leadership and keen customer insight, both Apple and Amazon have seamlessly transitioned multiple times from physical product to digital services, taking excited and faithful customers along for the ride each time.  Successful branding strategies like Apple redefined music, media and telecommunications with each advancing initiative, announcing each revolution in a trademark keynote address. Amazon has redefined how it sells books, music, media, and everything else under the sun without major brand reversals.  In the end, it is these brands, with the loyalty that they engender that will probably unseat Netflix.

The lesson learned here is, successful branding strategies never put the business before the brand. Customer engagement, understanding and loyalty to your business should be considered alongside decisions to cut costs, or streamline or evolve businesses. Not making these considerations can result in embarrassing and costly brand reversals.

Marshall Strategy

Do you want to tap into successful branding strategies and corporate identity efforts? Marshall Strategy has a proven track record of making a difference for our clients. Contact us today to find out what Marshall Strategy can do for you. Find out what we’re doing in the social world by “Liking” us on Facebook, following us on Twitter and subscribing to our YouTube channel. Also, find us on LinkedIn and follow our blog for more useful industry information.

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Destination Branding: Where to Start?

As visitor and meeting planner budgets shrink in a struggling economy, many cities have chosen to use destination branding in an effort to increase tourism and business travel to their location. Knowing where to start when developing a destination brand can mean the difference between success and failure.

Destination Branding

Understand Destination Complexities

Because the branding of a city or town is designed to not only bring tourists to the area, but also to assist in economic development, many voices must be heard in the development process. Business owners may have a different view on how to brand the city than the visitor’s bureau may have, while an economic council may have its own unique, bottom-line driven perspective.

Know Your Strengths

Often, cities forget to brand themselves as “something different” and focus on standard tourist attractions or on the business aspect of the location. In 2007, Santa Rosa, Calif., whose previous slogan was simply “Come Visit” found that visitors were choosing smaller, surrounding towns for conventions and vacations. City officials conducted research and learned that Santa Rosa was considered an excellent place to conduct business. With more than 200 wineries surrounding the city, Santa Rosa designed a new strategy to promote their agricultural heritage. The new campaign, “Place of Plenty,” was designed to attract business visitors who were looking for excellent food and wine venues in addition to business and convention amenities.

Use History and Geography to Your Advantage

Many cities rely on history or a unique geographical or historical attribute to promote the area. East Coast cities attract visitors to the Atlantic Ocean, while Williamsburg, Va., focuses on the history aspects of the surrounding area. One city that has enjoyed success in its rebranding effort is Lexington, Kentucky, the self-proclaimed Horse Capital of the World. In 2010 the city hosted the World Equestrian Games, and thousands of tourists visited from around the world. The Lexington Visitor and Convention Bureau worked with Pentagram Design to create a distinctive identity for the city centered around amythical blue racehorse named “Big Lex”, a cross between the famous Kentucky bluegrass and their equestrian heritage. The new campaign gave the city a memorable icon that builds off its unique heritage.

By knowing the strengths of your city or town, it is possible to develop successful destination branding strategies that will increase visitors and economic growth.

Marshall Strategy

Do you want to tap into successful branding strategies and corporate identity efforts? Marshall Strategy has a proven track record of making a difference for our clients. Contact us today to find out what Marshall Strategy can do for you. Find out what we’re doing in the social world by “Liking” us on Facebook, following us on Twitter and subscribing to our YouTube channel. Also, find us on LinkedIn and follow our blog for more useful industry information.

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You Named Your Golf Course What?

Article originally published by John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2011.

To take a spin through the many online registries of golf-course names, as I did this week, is to be humbled by the imaginative power of those who dream up the names. In golf-course America, almost every valley is a Happy Valley. Eagles soar, buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope still play.

golf course names

There are, to be precise, 149 U.S. golf courses with eagle in the name, according to a count of nearly 13,000 golf facilities by the National Golf Foundation. They range from the Soaring Eagles Golf Course in Horseheads, N.Y., to the somewhat less inspiringly named Spread Eagle Golf Course in Spread Eagle, Wis. There is an Eagle Point golf course in Oregon and an Eagle Pointe in Indiana. The difference, primarily of interest to marketers, is approximately the same as between shop and shoppe.

Antelope-named courses predictably show up mainly in the West. Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona, for instance, each have courses known as Antelope Hills. But buffalo (alluded to in 131 course names) and deer (with 149 mentions, tying the eagle) span the country. The word “deer” is a convenient naming device because deer are ubiquitous, to the point of actually being a nuisance in many regions, thanks to a fall-off in natural predators. Yet deer still connote woodland innocence. Thus real-estate developers, the primary source of new golf courses for at least the last 40 years, retain plausible credibility when they transform previously featureless tracts of land into golf nirvanas with names such as Deer Park, Deer Creek, Deer Meadow, Deer Run, Deer Ridge and Deer Trace, not to mention Doe Valley and Fawn Crest. These samples barely scratch the surface of deer-golf nomenclature.

The allure, or illusion, of golf as a country sport, as opposed to an urban or suburban one, dates back to its late-19th-century arrival in America. The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., which built its first course in 1893 and has since hosted three U.S. Opens and a Ryder Cup, didn’t need more than that for its name because it was the first.

About 30% of U.S. golf facilities are still called “country clubs” (even though a quarter of them are open to the public and thus not true clubs). That’s down from 40% in 1990, according to the NGF, as naming conventions have grown less hidebound. Who needs “country club” when you can dub your new course The Wilderness at Fortune Bay (in Minnesota), Ragged Mountain (in New Hampshire) or Spreading Antlers (in Colorado)?

It used to be that golf clubs primarily strove to project images of tranquil refuge and stability. Thus you have scores of courses named Lakeside, Lakeshore, Lakeview and so forth. Also popular are meadows, valleys, springs and brooks, frequently in combination: Meadowbrook, Valley Meadows, Meadow Springs, etc. As for strength and stability, the only conceivable thing more reassuring than the mighty oak—Oak Hill, Oakmont, Royal Oak, Charter Oak, Lonesome Oak, Twisted Oak, etc.—would be some kind of stone oak. Sure enough, we have Stone Oak Country Club in Holland, Ohio.

But in recent years the pendulum has swung to the other side of the clock. To create buzz, developers are using macho names like Horse Thief Country Club in Tehachapi, Calif., Renegade Golf Course in Wyoming, The Bandit in Texas, The Hombre in Florida, the Devil’s Claw in Arizona and Thunder Canyon—one each in Idaho and Nevada. The names of some of the newer “The” courses are basically dares: The Gauntlet (Fredericksburg, Va.), The Fortress (Frankenmuth, Mich.), The Challenge at Manele (Hawaii), The Quest at Houghton Lake (Mich.) and The Nutcracker (Granbury, Texas).

If you were of a mind, you could plot a fine bachelor party based on golf-course names. First, ditch the bride and her friends at Chippendale Golf Course in Kokomo, Ind., and proceed 25 miles west to Bachelor Runn in Flora. From there, visit Rogues’ Roost in Bridgeport, N.Y., or Rogue Valley in Medford, Ore., drop by Rooster Run in Petaluma, Calif., and perhaps the LuLu Country Club in North Hills, Pa., before winding things up at the Studley Wood Golf Club in Oxford, England. The next morning, depending on how you feel, you might trot over to the Isle of Wedmore Golf Club, also in England, or decide to chuck the whole thing and disappear. Suggested destinations: Stoner Creek Country Club in Paris, Ky., or Par T Golf Course in Anchorage, Alaska.

Many such journeys could be planned. Golf-course names, if not the courses themselves, provide a fair gloss on American history. You could start at Plymouth Country Club in Massachusetts, and continue to Patriot Hills Golf Club and Rip Van Winkle Country Club in New York. Then, Peace Pipe Country Club in New Jersey, Pocahontas Golf Course in Iowa, the Links at Davy Crockett in Tennessee, Little Bighorn Golf Club in Indiana, Westward Ho Country Club in South Dakota, Oregon Trail Country Club in Idaho, Conestoga Golf Club in Nevada and, finally, Settlers Bay Golf Course in Wasilla, Alaska (Sarah Palin’s town).

My favorite golf-course names, however, are the most whimsical. I love Clustered Spires in Maryland, True Blue in South Carolina and Ozzie’s Corner Golf Course in Hamlin, N.Y. Sadly, the Three Little Bakers Country Club & Dinner Theater in Delaware recently closed.

I’m also partial to the many names that play on golf’s unknowableness, such as Mystic Dunes (Florida), Mystery Hills (Wisconsin), Magic Valley (Tennessee), Druids Glen (Washington), Superstition Mountain (Arizona) and Spirit Hollow (Iowa).

Sometimes those responsible for naming courses simply try too hard, resulting in alliterative misfires like Tees and Trees, The Timbers at Troy and Krooked Kreek. In other instances they don’t try hard enough, such as the Outdoor Country Club, the Hi-Level Golf Course and the uninviting Naval Inventory Control Point Golf Course, all in Pennsylvania.

Far too many course names sound like they were lifted from children’s books: Candywood, Melody Valley, Happy Hollow, Sunny Meadows, Sugar Isle, Songbird Hills, Kissing Camels, Growling Frog.

Luckily, these are countered by a slate of names that seem to get golf’s personality just about right: Chagrin Valley, Crab Meadow, Bogey Hills, Grindstone Neck, Murder Rock, Nutters Crossing, Ruffled Feathers, Sourwood Forest and The Creek at Hard Labor.

I’m not sure how retirees respond to courses with names like Trails End, Twilight, Teetering Rocks, Tumbledown Trails, Coldwinters and Petrifying Springs. You’d think they’d prefer to play at Endwell Greens or Paradise Pastures.

House Speaker John Boehner was recently caught on an open mic describing his two-under-par round at a remote high-end course in Nebraska called Dismal River. There are a surprising number of similarly dour course names: Stoney Links, Stumpy Lake, Reedy Creek, Useless Bay, Potholes, Charwood, Rainsville, Furnace Creek and The Pit Golf Links, much less Mold Golf Club in Wales. Maybe the owners are just doing the best with what they have. If scenic knolls are all you’ve got, I guess you go with Scenic Knolls (Mitchell, Neb.). At least nobody, so far, has tried to perk things up by using the word “Golfe.”

Article originally published by John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2011.

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Creating a Distinctive Brand Experience

Brand Experience (definition): “The cumulative brand impressions garnered from visual, verbal and experiential encounters with the brand. The brand experience encompasses a range of intellectual, sensory and emotional connections.”

brand experience

Last month there were several stories in the news about fake Apple stores in China. Not only did these stores carry counterfeit Apple products, they also mimicked the architectural details, staircases, genius bars, graphics, employee uniforms and ambience of an Apple store. Unlike the myriad of brand knockoffs in China, though, these were easily detected because Apple has so scrupulously choreographed the brand experience within its stores.

All retail, service and hospitality businesses have a brand identity – an image of the business that is inscribed in their customers’ or prospects’ minds. Each identity is shaped by all that it is, says and does. An identity is more than a logo and a name, it includes location, products, staffing, design, service, amenities, architecture, signage, menu, music and more.

All these elements can be allowed to evolve tactically, with no particular plan, resulting in an undistinguished, contradictory and confusing place. Or, all of these elements can be orchestrated to create a coherent brand experience that provides a distinctive, appealing and competitive offering to its audiences. The latter is called a strategic identity, and it’s crucial for creating a distinctive brand experience. When it’s done well, it is memorable and unique. When it’s done poorly, it can be easy to imitate, or worse, confusing to the customer.

For example, Starbucks invested heavily in décor, product and personnel to create a distinctive brand experience within its stores. Customers know that wherever they are, whether travelling or close to home, they will always get their satisfying venti latte, served by friendly people, in a comfortable and familiar environment. The locations aren’t cookie-cutter in their layout, but they have an ambiance that their customers recognize and appreciate. A recently renewed focus on brand experience has been a key to Starbucks’ success.

By positioning a service business appropriately and focusing on delivering a meaningful and unique brand experience, a business can successfully increase visits, encourage loyalty and command a premium.

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