There is a great dialog in the famous Hollywood movie “Adaptation” written by Chrlie Kaufman:
– Laroche (botanist): Orlean, I love plants because they are capable of changing. The adaptation helps you to figure out the way to adapt and develop.
– Orlean: Yes, it’s easy for plants. Because they have no memory. For humans, the adaptions sometimes is like running away from instinct.
The message of the dialog is very clear: it is a common sense that adaptation is essential. However, the connotation of adaptation is changing. And the change means a trade-off, giving up old habits and old mindset to achieve better things.
Therefore, Orlean has her own reasons when claiming that adaptation is sometimes like a “running away”: it’s not easy to drop the “ego” which became its own identity. Especially that identity has created the own value for an individual.
In brand management, adapting to exist in the competitive environment is a strategic issue for every senior manager. When coping with the decision related to “change to adapt”, a brand immediately has to solve two issues: Does adaptation (or “change”) change the brand essence (or “core value”), and if yes, how will that change affect customers?
Human has “memory”, and so do brands
Back to Adaptation movie’s dialog, Orlean had a great expression when saying that human is like “running away” as they have to change to adapt. Likewise, it is also for brands, especially those that have made their imprints in the marketplace.
In Hanoi, there are numerous old cafés that is a kind of “little alley, little street and little cafés”. Street café brands like Nhan, Lam or Giang are very familiar with a group of customers. They are typically narrow, with simple or very old facilities, and very good coffee. The reason for this loyal customer group to come to these café is a distinctive Hanoi-styled coffee culture with which they have been accustomed year after year. In other words, brand have created a “memory” that goes in harmony with their customers.
The same story happens to many brands around you. Don’t be surprising at lines of people queueing to buy Apple’s new iPhone, iPad. The excellence of genius Steve Jobs not only comes from technology products of nice designs inside out but the fact that Apple is associated with the beauty. Their products have become a chic lifestyle and many customers normally become fans.
Every brand, no matter it is small or big, has a certain “memory” in its customer’s minds. Customers come and stay with brands because of this memory. And they will leave the brand if the memory no longer exists.
When brands change their essence, do customers feel betrayed?
Human find it difficult to change because of memory. There is an inner battle when human have to “betray” their memory. Brands also have “memory”. Unlike human, when a brand runn away from their memory and change its identity, it has to cope with much more difficult judges: customers.
According to a research on how customers react to brand identity changes (published on Journal of Product & Brand Management), loyal customers have certain emotional associations with brand so they often have negative reaction to any change.
For example, Starbucks and Gap raised a backlash among their loyal customers after logo changes. The reaction to Gap’s change was so strong that the brand had to return to the old logo after a very short time launching the new one.
That’s the reason why any brand identity change should be put under careful consideration.
Usually, the brand name remains unchanged year year unless there is entire change on business philosophy and mission or brand strategy repositioning.
The logo can change. Change sometimes is essential to keep the consistency between the logo meaning and brand strategy, or simply upgrade an old-fashioned logo in the current business environment.
Slogan can also change to match the competitive environment and marketing strategy changes.
Pepsi brand name has remained unchanged since the early days while Pepsi’s logo has been refined though keeping its core values. In contrast, Pepsi’s slogan constantly evolves along with the market demand in different periods. At first, Pepsi’s slogan was “Cures nervousness. Relieves exhaustion” (1902), then changed to “More bounce to the ounce” (1953), “You’ve got a lot to live; Pepsi’s got a lot to give” (1969), “Join the Pepsi People Feeling’ Free” (1973), “Pepsi – the choice of a new generation” (1980), and “Nothing else is a Pepsi” (1995).
Brand identity change like logo, brand name or slogan is just the final step to reflect brand’s “inner” change: brand strategy change.
However, sometimes you see no change in brand identity but there is a “switch” of “memory” in the customer’s minds.
This change relates to brand’s perceived image.
“Apple needs to adapt to where the growth is, which is the emerging markets. And the price points are going to be dramatically different in the emerging markets,” said John Sculley, Apple’s former CEO, on a recent interview with Bloomberg.
Al Ries, the father of brand positioning, has made a very short comment: “It’s the road to disaster.”
So where does this disaster road lead to? From “luxury” to “common”? Apple’s products are associated with the uniqueness, chic and more importantly, it becomes the way for many people to express themselves. If it’s now easy to own an iPhone or iPad, Apple will lose its well-built “memory”.
Changing to exist and adaptation is what brands often face. Any change, however, leads to the sacrifice an trade-off of brand identity and memory. How to balance these headache aspects is a strategic challenge to brand managers. If succeeding, brands will live forever with their customers.
Nguyễn Đức Sơn
Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates