DISH Network officially announced yesterday that Blockbuster will be closing its remaining U.S. retail stores and distribution centers — and it’s no surprise. Once a staple of video watching at home, Blockbuster had become very utilitarian – building and sustaining a brand that was tied too closely to the functional aspect of what it delivered. In people’s minds, Blockbuster = The Brick & Mortar Video Store.
Had they thought of themselves as being about ‘providing access to entertainment’ instead of as a ‘video rental store’ - and taken steps to deliver on that bigger promise - they might still be thriving in a world where devices, digital and on-demand media consumption reign supreme.
Other brands can and should learn from this: create a range of offers and tell stories about the benefit you provide to people, not just the functionality of what you do and have done. It’s the difference between ‘why’ and ‘what.’ And it makes all the difference.
Sam Liebeskind is a strategist at Wolff Olins New York.
Katja Seidenschnur is responsible for the Nescafé Dolce Gusto business in Europe, the next billionaire brand at Nestlé. Nescafé Dolce Gusto is a portioned coffee system, which is providing great-quality coffee-shop beverages at home. Previously, Katja held various leadership roles in marketing, innovation and business management at Henkel and Nestlé, and was educated at IMD and Harvard Business School.
What are the most significant shifts influencing your business?
There are three key shifts influencing our business: the economic crisis; technology, especially in digital; and finally lifestyle and demographic changes.
The economic crisis
The economic crisis has put our consumers under pressure. So on one hand we need to look at how we can be more efficient and smart – simplifying and driving out unnecessary costs and waste - and on the other, how we can be more innovative and differentiated, in order to have more meaningful brands that can’t be easily replicated. We need to add value to our consumers and customers. In Europe we’re generally not going for strong economic growth but market-share gains, so we have to think about what our consumers value, how we communicate what we offer beyond our product and how we create an emotional bond with them. Technology also supports us here by enabling us to add in extra features and services that make us differentiated.
More than ever before we need to be fast, honest and transparent. Technology has enabled us to talk directly and personally with our consumers and vice versa, which presents us with huge opportunities. But also, consumers are more demanding of us and we are more accountable. For example, our consumers challenge us to answer questions, like ‘what’s in my food?’, ‘where does it come from?’, ‘how sustainable are we?’ and ‘what do we give back to society?’ So, for example, even though our supply chain is incredibly complicated, we’ve had to gain even more control of it so that we can provide answers. In doing so, we’ve streamlined our operations and ask more questions of suppliers. This is making us a more socially aware, environmentally friendly and robust as a result.
Lifestyle and demographics
The other key shift for us is in nutrition and health. In Europe we’re seeing higher health insurance costs, rising levels of obesity and more sedentary lifestyles. Food can play an important role by offering better nutrition. We are making a great deal of effort to be the leader as a nutrition, health and wellness company, to be better than the competition from a taste and health perspective, to offer more nutritious food for the older population and setting the important base when it comes to children.
What do you see as the key growth accelerators over the next 12 months?
The key drivers for us are innovation and playing in the right categories. For example, portioned coffee and our brands Nescafé Dolce Gusto and Nespresso are clear growth drivers for our region. Also of course responding to the trends I mentioned previously - linked to convenience, customization, pleasure – will be key.
What role do you see brand playing in this?
Brand is very important for us, especially in Europe where a specific, niche and focused brand has the power to create relationships with our customers, to create an emotional link, to be an expression of who they stand for. For me, the formula for a great brand is one that tells stories of origin and history, of trust and purpose, and one that makes you dream.
Who inspired you in the early years?
I draw inspiration from my early life – my father was an explorer and an entrepreneur – he taught me the value in being open-minded and determined. My mum taught me to be generous.
In my professional life, a boss inspired me - he was a change leader, tearing down walls between people. He had a clear purpose and from that created a belief that everyone could strive for. He was consistent in bringing people together, trusting others and focusing on results.
What advice would you pass on to others just starting out?
It’s unlikely that your career will be linear so take chances and opportunities as they arise, you just don’t know where they might lead. The only thing that will be a constant through it all is you. So stay true to yourself.
The Wolff Olins blog isn’t normally a place for album reviews, but this morning, we’re really proud to share Aswan with you. It’s the debut album from The Nile Project, named after the Egyptian city where they recorded it live at their first-ever performance in January 2013.
The concert was the culmination of a ten day residency that brought together 18 musicians from Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Uganda to collaboratively compose and perform music inspired by the different musical traditions and instruments of the Nile River basin. Wolff Olins had the privilege to work with The Nile Project in 2012 to create a brand that would work for them across multiple cultural contexts and national borders. We are thrilled to see their brand come to life in Aswan.
The album was named one of the 5 Must-Hear International Albums of the Fall by NPR. NPR wrote “you can hear just how much fun the crowd is having — and how tight the band is, even as their instrumental multitudes adeptly combine everything from indigenous instruments like the Ugandan adungu lyre to saxophone and bass guitar.”
The next Nile Collective gathering and album recording will take place in Uganda in January 2014. If you’re a Nile Basin musician interested in joining them in January, you can apply here or learn more on their website.
For now, check out their music through your favorite platform:
An authentic heritage can clearly be a real strength. It can help a brand and bring relevance and customer love, but conversely can also tie it too strongly to the past, which is fine if you just make heritage things (like Royal Enfield).
Land Rover is a great example of a brand that carefully balances its heritage offer whilst focusing on a modern evolution to ensure it stays relevant. By partnering with Victoria Beckham in developing the Land Rover Evoke, subtly modernising showrooms and updating its traditional range, Land Rover has smartly leveraged its heritage whilst modernising and broadening its appeal.
Today another great British brand follows suit. Triumph has launched plans to grow into a global brand, into new markets and new categories, alongside an update to its logo and identity that presents its heritage in a modern context.
Imagine how many of today’s brands will be around in another 25 years. And of those that are, how different will their offer and how they present themselves need to be to stay relevant and desirable?
Miles Perkins and Caroline Hancock are Implementation Director and Client Services Director at Wolff Olins London.
We’re so proud of our partnership with The Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance (HEA), a network of highly educated young African social and business entrepreneurs from leading universities in Asia, Europe and North America.
Harambe partners with big business like Pfizer, Western Union and Syngenta and provides them with opportunities to support the entrepreneurial ventures of young Africans in a variety of sectors, including Enzi Footwear in Ethiopia, Lulaway in South Africa and Exposure Robotics in Nigeria. The House of Lords, the Parliaments of Ghana and South Africa, the White House and the Vatican have all recognised Harambe.
Through our partner Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance, we’re collaborating with a network of young entrepreneurs who are building game changing new businesses all over Africa. We love how uncompromising they are about both the social and commercial impact they are bringing to the continent.
This month we’re hosting a reception for the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance to bring together business leaders, creative professionals, inspiring thinkers and entrepreneurs involved in and committed to the future of Africa. This reception is part of a series of events Harambe holds all over the world, gathering 30 or so professionals to hear about their work and learn about the big drivers of growth in Africa. We’ve written about one here:
The reception will take place on 30th of October from 6.30pm at our offices. Felix Hallwachs, MD at Studio Olafur Eliasson and Little Sun will be sharing the fantastic adventure of Little Sun, a work of art that works in life. We’re aiming for an intimate, refreshing and thought-provoking discussion with an opportunity for everyone to share their ambition for the continent with their peers.
Finance, health care and retail are just a handful of industries that have undergone transformational change. Now it’s the legal industry. With the business world changing, clients want more value from their law firms.
Together, Nixon Peabody LLP and Wolff Olins embarked on a mission to clearly understand what that value is, and how to organize this Global 100 law firm around a brand promise to deliver it. We talked with clients, attorneys and staff, and did our own research.
WO + NP building their brand promise
The conclusion: In addition to excellent and efficient legal counsel, clients want business-minded partners who are predictive, proactive and can help grow their businesses. The heart of Nixon Peabody’s brand promise is to deliver that value—a commitment to look ahead, foresee obstacles, smooth the way and help clients grow.
Nixon Peabody understood this had to be more than a visual expression and marketing campaign. They needed a lens through which everything at the firm would be viewed in the context of this promise to clients. Collaborating with Wolff Olins, Nixon Peabody has engaged its entire firm in this mission. It’s expressed through work with clients, philosophy and operations.
Today, Nixon Peabody LLP rolled out the visual expression of this brand strategy that’s been in place at the firm for several months. We’re excited about the role brand has played in catalyzing action, and about developing an identity and website that reflects their energy and direction.
Branding keeps changing. The way brands work – their role in the world – is constantly evolving. But it’s possible to simplify this complex story into five distinct stages: five versions of brand.
Brand v1: marking ownership
The emergence, centuries ago, of the idea of private property meant people needed to mark their property – to say either ‘this is mine’ or ‘I made this’. People used painted marks, written signatures, watermarks, hallmarks, stamps – or marks burned onto things like cattle. Though this practice goes right back to the ancient Egyptians, the mark wasn’t called a ‘brand’ until some time in sixteenth century.
Brand v2: guaranteeing quality
With the industrial revolution, and the emergence of mass production, came a new insight: if you were a factory owner, you could put a mark not just on your property but on your products. The mark would mean ‘this is a product you can trust’. In an era of shoddy products, and often adulterated foods, these marks could command higher prices.
The great pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood was a precursor of this idea, with products labelled ‘Etruria’ from the 1760s. The technology of branding shifted: burned marks evolved into marks stamped onto products like pottery, and then printed on packaging. By the 1820s. the word ‘brand’ was being used in this new sense. The focus was on brand names and on brand reputations, and a new expertise emerged: the new breed of artists behind trademarks and packaging design.
Brand v2 turned direction, and gained huge new power, in the 1870s, with the idea that you could protect these new assets as ‘registered trademarks’. Design and law made a potent combination, and many of the earliest registered trademarks are still effective value-creators now, like Kellogg’s, Campbell’s or Bass.
Brand v3: promising pleasure
Around the start of the twentieth century, mass production was amplified by mass media. Factory owners realised they could combine with media owners to give their trademarks even more power: that through advertising in newspapers, then cinemas and radio, they could associate their products with powerful emotions. Brands could do more than guarantee quality: they could promise pleasure.
The chocolate entrepreneur George Cadbury anticipated this new version of brand. He associated his products with a big idea – purity – and gave that idea emotional power through advertising that used images of children. Once again, the technology of branding shifted, into the new arts of advertising and public relations. Cultural forces like psychoanalysis played a role in this: Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays was a founding father of PR. Brand makers defined brands through a proposition (or ‘unique selling proposition’, USPs) and a personality, in order to create powerfully persuasive communication. Large manufacturers of consumer goods – Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, Ford and many more – became masters of the art.
Brand v3 turned direction, and grew in power, in the 1960s, with the arrival of television in almost every home, and the ‘creative revolution’ in advertising, which produced hugely more sophisticated brand messaging. Increasingly, advertising appealed not only to people’s sensory pleasures, but also to the deeper pleasures of self-image: by choosing the right product, it suggested, you would look good to your friends, or feel better about yourself.
Brand v4: inviting belonging
Through the mid twentieth century, a new force emerged: the post-industrial corporation. Companies became huge supra-national centres of power. Big corporations, and their institutional investors, saw that they could broaden the impact of brand, from their individual products to the company itself. Brands could now be corporate brands, and could do more than promise pleasure: they could invite all kinds of stakeholders to feel a sense of belonging. By feeling they belong, employees would work harder, and customers would stay loyal for longer.
Early pioneers of what was originally called ‘corporate identity’ included Peter Behrens at AEG in Germany before the first world war, then London Transport in the 1920s, then IBM in the 1950s. The technology of brand shifted into defining an organisation’s purpose (or vision or central idea), expressing it through visual design – the logo and its supporting paraphernalia – and sharing it through the various mechanisms corporations use to build their internal working cultures. And a new kind of expert took centre-stage: the design-based brand consultant.
Brand v4 turned direction in the 1980s, when two contradictory things happened together. First, Reaganism and Thatcherism glamorised the corporation still further, and created a new cohort of privatised companies. Second, the PC gave individuals a new sense of power, culminating in the Apple Mac, and the 1960s generation started identifying with a new kind of apparently anti-corporate company, like Apple, Virgin or Southwest. These new phenomena felt like consumer brands, and the old terminology of ‘corporate identity’ switched to ‘corporate brand’.
Brand v5: enabling action
At the end of the twentieth century, patterns of consumer behaviour were transformed by the arrival of the Internet. Writers like Alvin Toffler were talking about the producer-consumer, or ‘prosumer’, back in the 1980s, but the Internet made prosumers mainstream. Suddenly, people had more knowledge and power than ever, and gained huge new scope to make and sell things, as well as buying them. Entirely new businesses transformed industry after industry: Amazon, eBay, Google, YouTube, Skype, Facebook, Wikipedia. None promised pleasure, or (in any deep emotional sense) invited belonging, but they all offered people a platform on which they could do new things: they enabled action.
The technology of branding is therefore changing once again. These new platforms think in terms of their role in people’s lives, and of the principles behind the user experience – and their success depends on how well that experience works. The old arts of advertising and logo design are much less important in this world, and expertise lies with the tech companies themselves, and with new kinds of specialists like service designers.
Where we are now
All five versions of brand still exist, side by side. Probably v3 brands are still the most common, and advertising agencies are still the most powerful force in the brand world. Most big corporations now take their brand v4 very seriously, and brand consultancies are still very influential. Brand v5 is still very young: it’s impossible to predict how it will play out, and it’s unclear who the new breed of experts will be. And the story isn’t linear: it may even be that the biggest v5 brands will start to look like big corporations, and behave much more like v4 brands. What’s certain is that evolution never stops, and v5 isn’t the end of the story.
If you’re in London, the Museum of Brands offers you a journey through the evolution of brands, with a particular focus on v2 brand packaging. For a good insight into the thinking behind brand v3, read David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising (1983). Liz Moor’s The Rise of Brands (2007) gives an historical account of brand v4. And Adam Arvidsson’s Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture (2006) offers a cultural analysis of brands v3, v4 and v5.
Robert Jones is head of new thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting professor at The University of East Anglia.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Trekkie. However, I would like to introduce Star Trek’s Borg: a malevolent force composed of half-machine, half-organic matter, linked in a hive mind (nothing to do with bees). I find these guys quite interesting and I think we might be able to learn a little from them.
The Borg seek perfection by touring the galaxy assimilating the key features from all other living creatures they encounter. They forcibly mind-meld them into their hive mind through violent abductions and injections of microscopic nanoprobes.
In their daily encounters they exhibit no desire to listen, negotiate or reason, only assimilate. It’s all about ploughing in and taking over. I’d like to see the Borg in a pitch.
These aliens communicate by circulating a collective audio message to their targets stating that “resistance is futile”, followed by a swift assimilation involving a takeover of “technological and biological distinctiveness”, which they add to their own composition. Clever, but hardly embracing of the open-source culture that we humans have embraced. I can’t see these guys sharing a tin of Quality Street at Christmas. Nevertheless, one has to admire their tenacity and single mindedness. Their communication strategy is focused: get in, get all the good stuff out and improve their proposition – perhaps there are some clues here for us all.
Being straightforward like the Borg is not easy and sticking to a single, dedicated approach is hard. The creative human mind naturally leads us in multiple directions, which is necessary to create new thinking. But recognising ‘the right’ idea at the right moment requires commitment, confidence and being a bit ‘hive-minded’.
New business thinking tells us that ‘always in beta’; ‘agile’, being minimal and ‘failing fast’ are useful methods to increase success. And that these techniques can save us time, money and allow us to launch our products whilst minimising failure. That’s good, right?
Or do we just need to connect the bits together better? It’s all at our disposal but we tend to think in isolation, without connection. The Borg connect in a single-minded, un-human way to self-improve and better their network.
Indeed they do learn from mistakes – they just do it differently, by not pausing or relenting, and this is a good attitude for any business. Setbacks are merely instances to be ‘analysed and adapted against’. Think about all those forgotten pitches and ideas that dwell in the bottom drawer. Sometimes our best thinking becomes someone else’s success. Maybe we need to be a little more hive-minded in our approach and add more digital rigour to our hard work so we can be reminded of that valuable thinking.
All businesses need to be on the lookout for new. New techniques, new tools, new methods and just simply looking in new places. That’s important but it’s also essential that we look back at where we came from, what we have done and apply that knowledge to developing the new. Maybe we need to ‘be a little more Borg’ – that sounds far more friendly.
Daljit Singh is a part of our visiting creative director programme, an initiative intended to help us stretch and enhance our creative thinking.
This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in the 2nd Rome Forum of the Harambe Entrepreneurial Alliance at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome.
The Harambe Entrepreneurial Alliance is a network of young African Entrepreneurs from top-flight universities around the world - Oxford, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Tsinghua and many more - all heading back to Africa to transform the continent through the positive power of business.
You’ve probably never heard of Harambe, but you’ve certainly heard of many of its partners - they include McKinsey, Standard Chartered Bank and GSK (at Wolff Olins we are humbled to partner Harambe through the Wolff Olins Harambe Internship). And I’ll stick my neck out to say that in the next one, five and 10 years you’ll hear about the businesses Harambe has fostered as they become not just great African businesses, but great global businesses.
It has become almost scripture to state that the 21st century will be Africans century. We all know the stats:
52 cities with populations over one million
A workforce that will be bigger than China’s by 2035
84% mobile penetration by 2015
Almost twice the proportion of GDP spend on education than OECD (20% vs 11%)
If progress and sustainable change are to really come to Africa, it is less the macro-economics that will drive this; rather it is the specific ideas and values of entrepreneurs as they go about creating wealth on the continent.
And with the rest of the world facing incredible challenges, not just in economic terms, but with the increasingly broken systems of education, food, energy, banking and health - how Africa solves its problems will become increasingly relevant to all of us.
So here then are three learnings from the Harambe Entrepreneurs that every business and brand would do well to adopt to remain relevant in these turbulent, unpredictable and fantastic times:
While these Entrepreneurs - many of them MBA graduates from the world top business schools - know how to work out profit pools, spot the opportunity in a global structural shift and structure a business model to an inch of its life, this is neither their start point nor their obsession. They obsess with the problem they are trying to solve and why it matters. To see some of the worlds top minds building business around anything from affordable healthcare devices to fostering female entrepreneurship (guaranteed to have a broader economic impact that male entrepreneurship), demonstrates that the first step in building a commercially impactful business is to build a socially impactful one.
2. You are nothing on your own.
Probably the most promising thing for the continent is that alliances like Harambe are fostering incredibly broad and dense networks of likeminded people sharing ideas, contacts and resources. They get that change is systemic and collaboration imperative. So the entrepreneur running a robot design school for teenagers is working with the one building an innovation hub; partners are coming together to fund great ideas based on a shared ambition and the right combination of skills, not a dragons’ den / sharks’ tank battle for equity. At Harambe, you can clearly see a post-competitive model emerging where commercial performance is enhanced, not compromised, by collaboration.
3. Change can’t wait.
Every one of the Entrepreneurs I met at Harambe has an incredible impatience to get things done. This is not born out a lack of desire to think things through, far from it. These Entrepreneurs know that a well thought through idea is the result of getting out quickly and collaborating with end users rather than waiting for a fully cooked business plan. So whether it is the entrepreneur doing a weekly bus trip between Johannesburg and Maputo to build a product exchange for women traders in both cities, or the shoe manufacturer taking the first style to market before fixing the complex supply change, these Entrepreneurs get out, do stuff, learn, and then do it better next time.
So I’ll leave you with three questions:
What problem is your business solving today?
How are you partnering with those you’d traditionally see as competitors?
Where could you sacrifice perfection tomorrow for impact today?
Wolff Olins will host a Harambe + Wolff Olins reception on October 30, at 7pm in our offices.
As we’re all finding out, consumers no longer simply consume. They’re active, skeptical, creative and entrepreneurial — and being an activist consumer is no longer a minority pursuit. Wolff Olins partnered with Flamingo this year to uncover consumer behaviours that are moving from the fringe to the mainstream.
Last month our CEO Karl Heiselman spoke alongside Flamingo’s Co-CEO Kirsty Fuller and Daniel Cherry Vice President, Consumer Planning, Diageo, Henrik Werdelin Managing Partner, Prehype, Jennifer Bove Director, Brand Design, GE and Troy Young President, Digital, Hearst - for a panel discussion moderated by Cliff Kuang Senior Editor at WIRED, on the significance of the changing relationship between people and brands, why it can’t be ignored by marketers, and the lessons that can help you profit from this new mainstream.
You can watch the full panel discussion that took place at BB Kings in NYC here.