Tag Archives: branding

Boeing 737 Max – end of a brand?

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One year ago Boeing’s 737 Max was one of the most successful launches in company history.

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A re-imagining of the venerable 737 design, it used updated aerodynamics, materials and engines to achieve 14% greater fuel efficiency vs the base 737, to compete with the Airbus A320neo (and it competed quite well).  It was granted FAA approval in March 2017 and the first copy was delivered shortly thereafter.  The product strategy expanded to include 4 variants.

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Now, after 2 mass-fatality crashes, production is on hold, the global fleet is on an expanding grounding with no firm restart date, and the entire line’s future is in doubt, taking with it the fortunes of a host of related entities including GE, the FAA, and the town of Renton, WA, where the planes were built, among many others.

Is this the end of what we know as the 737 MAX? 

Surviving a crisis seems to be some combination of:

  1. severity of an ‘event’
  2. how likely are negative consequences to occur in the future
  3. A third key factor is management’s action to swiftly and effectively mitigate future risk

Some very well-known brands have survived severe crises.  All are very healthy today.

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  • Tylenol – while the fatalities were low, the Tylenol poisonings of the early 1980s were a huge public threat
  • Perrier – – in 1990, a crisis emerged when a toxic substance, benzene, was found in some bottles of Perrier
  • Firestone – – in the late 1990s and early 2000s, hundreds of people died related to accidents attributed to tread separation of Firestone tires, particularly on Ford products
  • There are others: Volkswagen (Dieselgate), BP (Deepwater Horizon), SeaWorld (orcas)

In all of these cases, Management worked to swiftly remove any affected (or associated) product from circulation, provided consumer hotlines, publicized the recalls, and provided clear ongoing updates to the public.

In all of these cases, there was a clear explanation given for what caused the issues, and the solution was directly linked to the cause.

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Other brands did not fare as well:

  • AYDS was a very popular diet-suppressant candy in the 1970s and 1980s, but could not survive the mid-80s emergence of the disease AIDS. Because this association was not likely to end, the candy fairly rapidly was withdrawn from the market.
  • ValuJet – a budget airline, its Flight 592 crashed in 1996, killing all 110 aboard. The severity of the crash brought the airline’s poor safety record to light, thus raising doubt about future safety.  A rebrand was attempted but the airline eventually was discontinued.
  • Vioxx – -an anti-inflammatory marketed by Merck, this brand had over 80 million users. It was withdrawn in 2004 following reports that it could accelerate heart attack and stroke, exacerbated by the fact that evidence was known for about 5 years prior to action being taken.

In two of these cases, the severity of consequences was high, and there was low confidence that a long-term solution was possible.  In the third, the brand was associated with a disease with severe consequences – – just bad luck.

So will Boeing’s 737 Max survive?

  • High consequences from failure
  • No definitive cause or solution identified
  • Indecisive management reaction pushes resolution into the hazy future

The longer the lack of clarity lasts, the more doubt will grow around the 737 Max.  (As they said of the moon shot: “a million things have to go right.  Only one thing has to go wrong”.)

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After a quick check of the headlines, put me down for a no.

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I Know, It’s Only Rock ’n Roll, but…

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We try to refrain from simply reposting articles but this is a great example of how basic business principles can apply pretty much anywhere.

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The Rolling Stones – Masters of Their Universe

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a short article highlighting keys to the remarkable success and longevity of the World’s Greatest Rock ‘N Roll Band.

Ultimately, following these guidelines (with some caveats) are a pretty good prescription for success.

  1. Choose the right name.  We’ve commented before that a company shouldn’t try too hard on finding the perfect name.  If the product is excellent, the name will seem genius in retrospect  (witness Death Cab for Cutie and the Arctic Monkeys – – or the Beatles for that matter).  So, really, there are 4 tips here, not 5.
  2. Find a unique position in the market.  The Stones realized that they could be the bad boys relative to the Beatles’ wholesomeness.  Everyone loves a bad boy.
  3. Creatively beg, borrow or steal.  The Stones’s early hit “The Last Time” was gently lifted from the Staple Singers’s “This May Be The Last Time”  – only with a more catchy guitar riff and decidedly different lyrics.  They made that song their own, unlike Robin Thicke, who more blatantly ripped off Marvin Gaye.  Be inspired, but don’t plagiarize.
  4. Shed barriers to success before it’s too late.  The Stones’s arguably most talented member, Brian Jones, became unreliable and disruptive.  The group decided they needed to kick him out if they were to succeed.  They did, and a month later he was found in the bottom of his pool, another member of RnR’s infamous 27 Club.

5.  Continually reinvent.  Markets change, competition changes – – to survive long-term you must be able to anticipate and change.  Madonna and David Bowie are great examples of morphing to meet the need.  The Stones’s 1978 album Some Girls was a direct response to the threat of the burgeoning punk scene that included new artists the Sex Pistols, Ramones and the Clash.  Definitely different product than “The Last Time”.  As Keith Richards remembered, “It moved our ass, boy”.

Perhaps not something you’d hear from Peter Drucker, but still illuminating.

Why Dogs Aren’t Great Marketers

I’m back after a short blog sabbatical.  This post is in honor of Nigel’s 10th birthday.

Nigel

Sorry, Nigel, I love you but you suck as a marketer.  Sure, you have an unreal sense of smell – – you can smell me silently unpeeling a banana from another floor of the house so you might get a little piece of the action.  And you’ve told me many times that this or that ad campaign really stinks.  So far so good.

But, and I hate to break this to you, buddy, you’re color-blind.  You couldn’t tell a green biscuit from a red one from a brown one.  (That’s why I never present you with more than one at a time – – with no way to tell them apart, you’d starve before you made a choice).

Anyway, by being color-blind  you miss a key differentiator that can make or break a product – – COLOR.

Humans, on the other hand, are attentive to differences in color, and that makes a huge difference.
– color not only calls attention to a single product in a crowded field, it is a strong mnemonic reminder to aid in brand recall, and can even convey desirable qualities about a brand.  In short, color can mean a LOT, even if in itself it has no bearing on product performance.

This is before you were born, but there was a time where products in a category all looked alike.

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– before 1956, all fiberglass insulation was yellow – but then Owens-Corning dyed theirs pink to differentiate from the competition, in 1964 hired the Pink Panther, and the rest, as they say, is history.  They redefined what this category looks like and BECAME DIFFERENT (sorry for yelling.  I’m not mad).  More than 50 years later, they’re still leveraging the color Pink.   Along the way they got trademark protection for pink in this category.  On the other hand, Pepto-Bismol, another pink icon, was unsuccessful in protecting pink for the antacid category.

– If you did have full color sensitivity, Nigel, stopped ‘grooming’ yourself and picked your head up and looked around, you’d see lots of examples of where color has helped differentiate products.
– green in tractors (John Deere), teal in luxury jewelry (Tiffany), brown in package delivery (Brown, er, UPS, – – even if they’ve now moved on)

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I’ve noticed a few myself.

MegaRed Krill Oil – -in a sea of sameness in fish oils (all honey-colored capsules), maker Schiff came out with a variation (krill) and underscored that difference by not only coloring their product and package red, but extending it to the name itself.  I’m not sure if it’s any different from a functional standpoint, but it definitely has made a mark in this crowded field by being different.

MegaRedFish oil pills

Christian Louboutin Shoes – – ok, you may be a little closer to this (literally) than me, but designer Christian Louboutin has staked a position in the market by coloring the soles of his namesake high heels bright red.  Apparently this made enough of a difference that he was in court with Yves St Laurent regarding whether this design can be protected.  Regardless of the outcome, red soles in this category have been permanently associated with Louboutin, and have drawn significant attention to his brand in a crowded field.

Louboutin shoes

And differentiation, my friend, is what it’s all about.  Don’t ever forget to think about color next time you’re taking potshots at this or that product when we’re shopping at PetSmart.