December 24, 2009

A Saab Passing

So Saab is on the way out. And I am a little less for it.

To paraphrase John Donne (and with apologies to the poetry purists amongst you):

Each brand's death diminishes me, for I am involved in brandkind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

News of the imminent demise of what Brandchannel describes as "the first venerable, standalone global brand" to fall casualty to the worldwide crisis in car-production, has provoked a reaction more suited to the announcement of a death in the extended family.

But it's only a brand, you might say. And not a very successful one at that, if sales are anything to go by. And if you're the brand-owner (General Motors, in this instance), then it's only natural that you're inclined to switch off the life-support when your ailing brand is flatlining.

Now, I'm a Saab-owner as well as a brandmaker, and whilst I can see the business-case for shutting down a brand that's not performing (and remember, the purpose of a brand is to influence choice), I am doubly diminished at the passing of this great brand.

Perhaps it's because I've grown rather fond of my own Saab? 

And it seems I'm not alone. I've written previously in Open-Heart Branding that I'm not especially into cars, but my choice of Saab made sense when I went to buy my first new car some years ago. That post prompted a remarkable reaction, not just from my regular readers, but from Saab-lovers worldwide. A number of them contacted me directly to tell me of their own love-affair with the brand.

Judging from the language used by industry analysts, it appears that the brand is widely-mourned by those who appreciated Saab's "quirky designs and mastery of turbocharging". (Even if, like me, you're not quite sure what turbocharging is, you've got to love a brand that's mastered it.) Brandchannel refers to it as a "storied brand" and reports how General Motors (who bought the brand in 1989) "slowly strangled a proud heritage with a paucity of new products."

Elsewhere, CNN talks of the death and loss of a "brand we loved", whilst others talk of the 'devastating' news of the demise of a brand with real character. Almost everyone lays the blame for the death of the brand squarely at General Motors' door, accusing the manufacturer of stripping Saab of its singular, angular design and reducing it to just another lookalike car.

No, it's not just that I'm a Saab-owner and a brandmaker. The death of any great brand diminishes us all.

When brands are at their best, they contribute hugely to the richness of our lives. Representing the distinctive relationship between buyer and seller, they make customer choice easier and a lot more interesting. Like many other global manufacturers, General Motors doesn't understand that.

Saab isn't being killed off because it didn't matter. Starved and neglected, it suffered because General Motors ignored the brand's rich heritage and made a series of poorly-judged changes that rendered the brand almost unrecognisable and left it a pale, bland shadow of its former self.

Bewleys suffered the same fate here in Ireland, whilst Guinness was victim to some appalling advertising in the late '90s that threatened to kill off the brand before it finally regained much of its old strength thanks to a return to brand values.

Like Saab, these brands matter.

To paraphrase John Donne again:

No brand is an island, entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea (or put to death by a hapless manufacturer that deeply misunderstands brands), then we are all the less.

Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us all.

Farewell old friend, we'll miss you.

Over To You: Are you saddened by the passing of this great brand or do you think mourning a car-marque is just a little over the top?

December 12, 2009

To That Special Nobody

The people over at Vertical Response insist that one of the great benefits of direct email is how it lets you personalise a mass-mailing.

I agree.

Even when I know that I'm one of many, a note addressed to me by name can make me feel like I'm a very special one in a million.

That's why it's so disappointing to receive a mail from them addressed to: FIRST_NAME / Vertical Response Customer.

Now, I'm no longer a customer of theirs since discovering their competitor, Circulator, but I still feel a little snubbed by their message.

What I can't understand is how they allowed this to happen. It's just a simple mistake you might say, but one of the beauties of direct email is that it allows you to send a test version and iron out any wrinkles that result.

A careless click of the finger has undone much of the good reputation that Vertical Response has built up over time (I'm assuming that I'm not alone in my disappointment). Even more vexing is that no-one over there seems to have noticed, and I haven't received the quick follow-up note that might smooth my ruffled feathers.

Direct mail offers a great opportunity to speak in a personal way to our customers, but Vertical Response have messed up on this opportunity and I'm not so inclined to welcome their messages into my In-Box anymore.

Over To You: What impersonal messages have left you cold recently?

December 06, 2009

More On 'Following The Leader'

My previous post on the importance of followership seems to have struck a chord with readers and has attracted much commentary both on and off-line, with many of you contacting me directly to remark on it.

One of my BNI Marketwest colleagues sent me on a copy of a note I had circulated when stepping down as Chapter Director some years ago, where I talked in more detail of the benefits of leadership and support enjoyed by geese in flight. He suggests that I add it to my blog thread on this subject:

Until recently, scientists could only theorise as to why geese adopted the V formation for flying long distances. However, a new simulated study during which ornithologists taped heart monitors to a team of BNI members, who were then trained to fly behind a small airplane, has produced some astonishing findings:
  • The heart rates of the BNI 'geese' are lower when flying in a V than when flying solo.
  • The goose at the head of the V is not necessarily the leader of the flock. Apparently geese take turns leading. As one bird tires, it drops to the back of the formation and another takes its place.
  • As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in a V, the whole flock adds over 70% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
  • The formation allows geese conserve energy as they can glide more often.
  • When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again. Then they launch out in a V to catch up with the flock.
  • Each goose has an unobstructed field of vision, allowing flock members to see each other and communicate while in flight.
  • The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
What can we learn from all of this? Well, your goose is as good as mine.
To the old V: thanks for all your support and honkouragement.

And to the new V: honk, honk, honk, honk!