Saturday, June 27, 2009

Polaroid – brand cardio pulmonary resuscitation

Innovate or become obsolete is the new mantra in Detroit. It should be the mantra for all brands, because as we're seeing in so many industries, resting on your laurels is not an option, whether you're a computer company, a car manufacturer, an airline, or a restaurant. Many brands disappear into oblivion without making headlines. Yet some brands are like emotional signposts along the highway of our life. They seem irreplaceable, and we lament their loss when they are gone.

How does a brand achieve that kind of iconic status?

Well - they fulfill the classic brand strategy to the tee - (differentiated, functional & emotional benefits). Yet iconic brands also create experiences that drive emotional connections, art and science to be sure with some alchemy thrown in. The right timing helps as does an innovation that sets the industry on fire.

Enter the Polaroid - a child of the 60's and as cool and innovative as Google or Apple today. As revolutionary as digital - you could instantly see the result - better than digital because it was printed and off you went with your original piece of art or moment in time.

Early in my career I worked in the tv commercial and feature film business - or in "the biz" as everyone called it. Polaroids were a staple of any set - they were used to capture wardrobe, continuity between scenes (was her hair parted on the side or middle...), every audition "headshot" was captured by a Poloraid. Polaroids were even used for lighting tests by the Cameramen.

Picture: "JUST TRYING TO FLY HIGHER 1/2" (Rb67 + polaback) shot by S.OMBRE

Speaking of art, the Polaroid also led a rich life with many artists and photographers. Creamy soft colours...some artists even baked the picture to achieve amazing effects. And then there was the ultimate...... the amazing 20x24 camera which takes big, detailed 20X24-inch instant color and black-and-white photographs. Polaroid created it to make large format photography available for a wide spectrum of uses, from getting close-up magnified views of Raphael's Transfiguration for the Vatican Museum to taking portraits of President Clinton at the White House or Dave Mathews and His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Seattle.

William Wegman has also used this puppy to shoot portraits of his Weimareinars. However, weighing in at 235 pounds, this camera is not exactly what you'd take backpacking.

Ok - so now you're saying - I saw one of those smaller Polaroid gizmos up in the attic. Cool - I can be retro and artistic too! Are you sitting down? If not, take these words in very slowly. Polaroid has decided to stop making film.

Yes - no more Polaroids, except.............

The Impossible Project
was launched in the Netherlands. An Austrian scientist and a bunch of radical smart Dutch folks (mainly former Polaroid employees) are trying to rescue Polaroid by reinventing it using new, more cost effective and hopefully more earth-friendly materials. They've given themselves 12 months and are asking everyone around the world to help them innovate around a solution. How cool is that?

There's a real drama too about how they saved the last Polaroid-making machines from destruction from an old Polaroid manufacturing plant. It's a story filled with intrigue, a crook, and a Ponzi scam (no not Bernie Madoff). You can read the story here in the New York Times. With the launch of Project Impossible, there's been an outpouring of emotion and love, yes love, for this brand. Let's wish these guys success!

But the real point here, is that when you have a great brand and the business is strong and healthy, it's difficult to imagine any other scenario except continued success, high stock valuations and a case study of your brand published in books like "From Good to Great". But even the mighty fall, and success can never be taken for granted. Keep the the core, the heart of your business strong through innovation so your brand will never need CPR.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Innovation - on the fly

Brands constantly need to innovate to stay fresh and relevant to their customers. But innovation, especially new concept design can very expensive. How can you create a new product or service in an area of your business that is unproven while minimizing your risk?

Well, according to IDEO, the iconic global design consultancy, you don’t wait for perfection but you do what software companies have been doing successfully for years - you “launch and learn”. This means conducting short experiments where you involve your customers, get their feedback, tweek and refine on the fly, in real-time. It’s a never ending process.

“With ever-increasing competition, innovative businesses are finding that in order to stay competitive their offerings need to constantly evolve. And that to improve their offerings is to encourage consumer participation. This helps them build a competitive advantage by constantly revisiting what they deliver and how they deliver it. They know that traditional market testing will only validate their past successes. To understand the next big thing, companies have to engage with customers and react to their needs”.

In Seattle, an innovative food company called Sugar Mountain is taking this approach to heart by prototyping a new food concept – Maximus/Minimus. It’s basically a pig mobile that sells gourmet pulled pork sandwiches. It’s usually found parked at 2nd and Pike (near Pike Place Market), but since it’s mobile, you never know where it will show up – unless you follow “The Pig” on Twitter.

Clover Food Lab is another example of grassroots experimentation that I found on IDEO’s website (which you need to visit). It’s a vegetarian restaurant in a mobile truck. Instead of hiring a chef to create a menu and test it with focus groups, the menu changes daily. The truck is parked outside of MIT and customers are updated about daily specials through text and through the Clover blog. Learning and shaping his menu along the way, Ayr is prototyping his way into expanding into more trucks as well as developing permanent sites.

How can you engage current and potential customers to help you innovate while receiving timely and cost effective feedback? How can you make innovation part of what you do everyday?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

War in an Instant - Nestle vs Starbucks

After spending two idyllic weeks on vacation, I'm back home in Seattle. I am proud to say that I actually unplugged - no iPhone, no email, no Facebook, no blogging, no newspapers except for The Picton Gazette (circulation 5000 if that), not even the radio. My entertainment was birdsong, the lapping of waves on a pristine lake and a stack of mystery novels.

So I'm slowly easing myself back into city life and world news. Putting the tensions in North Korea aside, the biggest "war" that I am reading about is Nestle vs Starbucks. Perhaps this is old news (my apologies) but oh so fascinating! How often is it that you get to see the #1 uncontested category leader (Nestle) hurl their fists in such fury at the new kid on the block? And what a fight it is with Nestle kicking sand in Starbucks face, using Starbucks advertising voice against them to hurl "insults", positioning Starbucks as an opportunist in their online and billboard campaign.

The gauntlet is thrown, and knowing Starbucks, they will turn the other cheek. Nestle is sending Starbucks a strong message - we will fight you at every turn with our global deep pockets. Nescafe is, after all, their flagship brand. They feel threatened (and they should) but it seems to me that this corporate posturing does little except help Starbucks build awareness for Via. The average consumer is likely not paying attention or if they do, will be interested in trying Via to see what the fuss is about.

Why did Nestle try this particular strategy? You can bet Starbucks entry into instant coffee was identified in their strategic planning as a big brand risk for some time. Most category leaders would have come up with a new premium line-up or line-extension to fight a newcomer, perhaps introducing some new technology, and advertise the heck out it. In traditional competitive strategy, you would seek to "jump the S-curve", reinvigorate the brand and as category leader, take advantage or define the competitive dynamics. Heritage and price advantage aren't necessarily the most compelling competitive dimensions - taste is what's important in this category.

Perhaps Nestle saw the inroads that McDonald's was having by attacking Starbucks directly on price and elitism and thought they'd follow suit. Nestle has even gone so far as to buy the same billboard located near Starbucks headquarters in Seattle to broadcast their assault missiles.

Big difference however was that McDonald's introduced product news - lattes and other coffee beverages as "credible alternatives" to Starbucks.

Starbucks is being attacked from all sides. First the independents, then Dunkin, then global corporations McDonalds, and now Nestle.

Wow - Starbucks in beginning to feel like the underdog. Go figure.