Don’t change who you are

June 28, 2012

There is no value in a brand name or a logo. There is value in what customers associate that name or logo with, value in who you really are as a brand. If your customers think you’re something, congratulations. Now find a way to strengthen that perception (unless they think you’re crap of course).

Yet time and time again, you see brands who are something but want to be something else. Usually they want to be something their strongest competitor is. Let’s look at two examples:

1) Volvo
Ask people ten years ago about Volvo and they’ll say it’s safe, high-quality and maybe a bit boring. And people didn’t just think Volvos were safe, they thought it was THE safest car on the planet. So what did Volvo want? They wanted to be sporty.

It’s easy to see why, with BMW being so successful. But here’s the thing; when BMW is already “the ultimate driving experience”, you cannot beat them at their own game. You can never be sportier than BMW, unless they really mess up. They own that position, they understand it, they have the products, the people, the structure and the passion to be in that position. Volvo doesn’t.

Volvo can change the design of their cars, put in bigger engines, hire some people away from BMW, but chances that BMW will relinquish their extremely profitable brand position and that you can take it over are slim to none. Even if you can build a sportier car (which you likely can’t), that doesn’t mean the consumer will realize it. Many experts say Nissan’s GTR is a better car than a Porsche 911, but which sports car would you rather own?

Of course, in beefing up their engines, creating hipper designs and changing the focus of their communication, Volvo has gotten a bit sportier in the past ten years. But have they overtaken BMW in that department? Not even close. At the same time, they have lost that iconic safety position, they are still very safe but do we assume they are in a league of their own? Nope.

Instead of trying to be BMW, they should have focussed on being more Volvo. Really pour on the safety aspects. Push the idea that being sporty is nice, but if you have a choice to go from 0-100 in 6 seconds or keeping your family safe, what would you choose? Maybe it’s boring, but in the end plenty of people will drool over sporty and buy safety, if the case is made well.

2) Blackberry
Blackberry got big by being a product for business people. Then they decided they wanted to be a consumer product. The irony was that they already were a consumer brand with their business phones, for some because the features of business phones appeal to them as consumers, for others because it was cool simply not to have a mainstream consumer product.

Of course, their attempt to aggressively target the consumer market, instead of viewing it as a side-catch of their business approach, has backfired spectacularly (with the horribly named PlayBook tablet at the center). By all accounts, it’s a very nice tablet, and it’s likely used for play a lot, but who wants to admit that? Especially because it needed to connect to a Blackberry phone to work, it would have made a lot more sense to position it as a BizBook, as an indispensable extension of your Blackberry for work.

Thanks to the Playbook and many other decisions (don’t get me started on those TV commercials about the music exec), consumers don’t think Blackberry is different and cool anymore, and many business customers no longer see it as the ultimate business phone. They’re getting iPhones in droves, which is ironic as Apple has always maintained they will not make compromises to the iPhone to make it more appealing to business. Turns out they didn’t have to, they had a genuine product, with strengths and weaknesses, but its coolness covered up those weaknesses sufficiently for business customers to make the switch.

The lesson is always the same: Embrace who you are and work to strengthen that position, because it’s very hard to change (both for you and your customers).

BTW, my modest opinion on what Blackberry should do now can be found in my next blog, so subscribe at the top left of this page to receive it automatically.

2 Responses to “Don’t change who you are”

  1. Alex Simon Says:

    Excellent appraisal of Volvo. Making a sportier version is fine, but people should have been pleasantly surprised such a safe car could be swift.

    I see SAAB as also never fully grasping what drove people to buy their cars and the type of people that did.


    • Saab is an amazing case, where its customers probably understood the brand better than the company owners. It’s tough to be unique and quirky when you have to base your products on a GM platform, although with their last 9-5 I think they did a very good job. Unfortunately that was too little, too late.


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