Do you remember back in college when your Marketing 101 professor asked your class, “Who owns a brand?” Even though it was more than 20 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. And I remember my first thought – Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Nabisco… they are the ones that own their brands. Boy did I feel stupid when someone in the class said “the customer.” Of course… the customer owns it. Why didn’t I think of that?
The customer owns your brand. So why is it that so many of us have forgotten it as we progress through our careers? How could Starbucks, GAP and Tropicana, three extremely successful brands with smart leadership, possibly launch new branding efforts that incensed their customer bases if they were paying attention to customer needs and desires? You would think companies like this would be very careful when launching new products, new campaigns or rebranding efforts. Having the knowledge that brings a company closer to the true feelings of its target seems invaluable, but many companies are either going about it the wrong way or skipping it altogether.
Starbucks – Even though they did pretesting with consumers, ever since Starbucks recently announced that they were dropping the words “Starbucks Coffee” from their logo, the social media space has been on fire with dissent. Sure… Starbucks needed the “freedom and flexibility to think beyond coffee,” but they could have gone about it in a much different way (like by just removing the word “coffee”!).
Starbucks’ blog page is loaded with negative comments. Their Facebook page has thousands of negative posts about the logo. And there are at least 50 new Facebook pages dedicated to bringing back the old logo! And a lot of the feedback is coming from their most loyal customers.
Loyal customers have come out and said that they have “no relationship with the mermaid.” A recent survey by ZURB found that 72 percent of consumers actually “hate” the new logo. And experts have said that dropping the Starbucks name from the logo will confuse consumers who are not as familiar with the company.
Starbucks appears to be much better known by their name and green font, and not by the Siren. Right now they are standing firm and holding their position. Time will tell if it was a smart decision.
GAP – In an incident from last year, Gap changed their design from the classic, blue-and-white lettering to one thatsported a simpler Helvetica font. Outraged consumers ignited a social media storm. Gap responded by crowd-sourcing the design, and then they ultimately pulled the plug on the experiment and reverted back to the old logo. The bad – they didn’t talk to consumers ahead of time and got caught in a massive storm of negative publicity. The good – they quickly listened to the negative response from their customers and took action.
Tropicana – Customers were irate when Pepsi changed the packaging for this brand. They complained through letters, e-mails, telephone calls and social media posts. They said the new packaging resembled “a generic bargain brand” or “store brand,” and made it harder to distinguish among the varieties of Tropicana or differentiate Tropicana from other orange juices. Pepsi bowed to public demand and is going back to the old packaging and brand symbol (the orange with the protruding straw). They admitted to underestimating the deep emotional bond that customers had with the original packaging. And they plan on contacting everyone who called or wrote them, to explain that they are changing things back.
There will always be backlash when companies try to change something. That is human nature. But the backlash in all three of these instances was extremely strong and volatile. It makes you really wonder what kind of upfront research was conducted.
There are lots of additional examples – Andersen Consulting creating Accenture, Comcast creating Xfinity, and RadioShack trying to become The Shack. Who can forget New Coke (customers loved the taste of New Coke – the problem here was that they never told focus group participants that they were taking classic Coke away!). All of these have met with more than their fair share of criticism from current and potential customers, and caused damage to their brand.
You must listen to and engage with your customers. Customers need to feel as if they own your brand. With today’s technology and social media explosion, it is easier to do than ever before. Customers can now critique, talk back and connect with each other, and share stories and opinions. Your brand has to be committed to listening to these discussions and engaging appropriately and transparently. This doesn’t mean that the old forms of listening have gone away. Direct discussions, interviews, surveys, focus groups, observation, warranty data, field reports – they are all still critical aspects of finding the voice of your customer.
Once you have the voice of your customer, make sure it spans your entire organization and influences all types of decisions… not just marketing ones. It can help improve processes, service and products. And by all means, please don’t let your brand become the next case study in what not to do!
– Stephen Weinstein, EVP Director of Account Management