At the time, it seemed like a really good idea…

In Insights, Uncategorized

6 March, 2012

The subject of our latest annual trademark and marketing conference, Årets Mærkedag, was Brand Grooming. The skill of maintaining your brand and still be able to evolve it without losing your customers or built-up goodwill.

We heard how especially established brands have to tread carefully when keeping a brand and its identity up-to-date and how newly established brands have to get things right from the beginning.

One thing is theory, another practice.

NetFlix is probably fairly unknown here in Europe. In North America it has been a fast rising star. Netflix’ product is the rental of DVD by post. You would also receive personalized recommendations. The business has developed into on-demand streaming too. The idea is that you pay a monthly flat fee as a subscription. You then receive the rental DVDs by mail and return them to Netflix or download the films. Netflix became hugely successful and beat out Blockbuster because it rode the technological wave of the Internet and DVDs successfully. It did this by building a business model around web-based browsing of selections, prompt delivery, on-line recommendation systems and exploitation of “the tail of the distribution” by stocking DVDs that appeal to a small percentage of the viewing population.

In last autumn NetFlix decided to split the business in two: the streaming service would continue as NetFlix and the rental service would be called Qwikster. It would still be the same company but customers would now have to subscribe to two different kinds of service. Probably nothing uncommon or even strange when we are talking business development, actually it seems quite a reasonable move. Netflix even had substantive research showing that the change made sense.

Before this, Netflix had raised the prices from $9.99 per month to $15.99. There was an outcry from the consumers and a mass exodus.

Within two months NetFlix lost almost a million customers and its shares plummeted. NetFlix quickly killed off Qwikster and went back to the good old ways, trying to reassure the market and their customers. To this day Netflix has regained neither costumers nor share value.

So, apart from the significant price hike, what went wrong? Consumers form strong bonds with brands and expect consistency from them.  Brands are promises built on a trusting relationship and if they abruptly veer in another direction you will risk goodwill and to lose you loyal customers.

For guidance, they could have looked to Coca-Cola who once made a monumental branding blunder that still haunts the company.  It is the case study of trying to change what works. In 1985, Coca-Cola announced the launch of New Coke. It flopped massively, evidenced by the company being flooded by calls and letters disapproving of the decision. The known Coca-Cola was then reintroduced as “Classic.” 

Last year, Gap attempted to refresh their logo doing away with the old blue box. In this case, the consumer outcry was not over price or distribution but over something as simple as the typeface of the new logo. After only one week of brand disparagement, the company rescinded the new and went back to the previous blue.

Maybe this shows that the predilections of your customers are not something you can measure or assess; you need to know it intuitively. This also emphasizes that the changes you make to your business and/or brand have to be made carefully; the more iconic your brand and the more loyal your customers, the more carefully you may have to tread. And not the least: be aware that decisions that were made under one set of circumstances may not be good under another – even if you have customer surveys to back things up.

Thorbjørn Swanstrøm, Attorney at Law at Awapatent

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