Brand Supernovas

Brand SupernovasHow many times have brands or companies simply be-dazzled you with their products, communication, pace of innovation, service delivery etc and then suddenly dropped off the planet?

Not often, but I bet most of us would come up with an example or two.

Got thinking on similar lines and tried racking my brains to come up with a list my own. Funny thing with lists though is that you want the number of items on it to reach a nice round figure. What I figured was; whatever number that you can get to without stretching the core thought is probably the right number to have on the list. I am sure you nodded your head to that one.

Before I started writing this post I looked up the term “Supernova” in the dictionary

su·per·no·va (so͞o′pər-nō′və)

A rare celestial phenomenon involving the explosion of a star and resulting in an extremely bright, short-lived object that emits vast amounts of energy. Depending on the type of supernova, the explosion may completely destroy the star, or the stellar core may survive to become a neutron star.

I have for the purpose of this post highlighted what I believe are the operative parts.

Before I go on to cite examples let me establish the basic premise which is, a successful brand is the coming together of a great product or service and communication that resonates with the consumer leading to a distinctive identity, a marked preference and a position of leadership. Now, that’s an elevator pitch definition of brand success that covers most if not all bases.

Now brands fade for a variety of reasons and hundreds go into oblivion every day. Mostly because they didn’t deliver on the promise that they made. Reasons could be they stopped being relevant or they got complacent or they were poorly managed etc. The very opposite at one time or the other must have got them to the top. It is however important to make a distinction between brand supernovas and brand fads.

Brand supernovas are the ones that seemed to have got it right. Well atleast for a while.

Now for the examples. Here are brands that shot up high and lit up the horizon while they were at it. Almost all these brands had a great product/service idea that went down extremely well with consumers, customers and investors. Not all of them spent big bucks on advertising and communication but they sure captured more than a fair share of imagination – to the extent that nobody imagined them going bust.

Napster_LogoNapster: A pioneer in more ways than one. Based on a brilliant insight and a sound technology Napster shot to fame towards the end of the last millennium. It is said that Napster at its peak had over 80Mn registered users, a number to die for even in today’s socially hyper-connected world. Legal troubles signaled the beginning of the end. While the brand attempted a comeback, the magic didn’t simply happen. What Napster did was permanently alter how record labels perceived and carried out their business.

 IridiumEverywhereLogoIridium: You had seen this kind of stuff only in James Bond movies before and these folks made it happen for real. Well almost! This service and technology was not only introduced ahead of its time but also prematurely. The “Everywhere” promise the brand made could not be delivered effectively for the lack of satellite arrangements. An out of the world investment (pun intended) in putting all those satellites meant an extremely highly priced service to the end users but more than that the fact that it didn’t work as promised took the wind out of Iridiums sails. They had to close shop but not before they had captured the world’s attention and imagination.

Kingfisher_AirlinesKingfisher Airlines: An example from closer home. Their acquisition of Air Deccan established them as one of the leaders of the airlines industry in India. Their promise of a “good time” had people queuing up. The Branson’esque flamboyance of the owner helped the airline get more than its fair share of attention. They took a leaf out of PanAm by leading an explicit but unstated promise of stewardesses who were good enough to walk the ramp as models. The airline eventually was grounded as it ran up debts way beyond its ability to pay. The Kingfisher wasn’t flying anymore! It can be argued that the entire fiasco did not have a positive impact on the original brand of beer by the same name and on the holding company.

Coming back, the three brands did have a great product/service that gave them a distinct identity and a position of leadership. However, mismanagement in some form or the other led to the brands fading away but not before they had lit up the sky!


Sleeping with the Enemy: When Partners Kill Your Brand Experience

SwteThis is an observation that stems from a personal experience, you could consider it a rant if you please.

I had accumulated quite a few reward points on my credit card. I am the type of customer the credit card industry would call a deadbeat. With our anniversary and wifey’s birthday falling in the same week, I decided to use some of these points and order something nice.

I set off on my journey through the credit card provider’s website hoping to come across a catalogue from which I could choose and order. I discovered soon enough that things have changed on the rewards program side of the credit card industry too. I did mention I have “accumulated” these points over time. The last I had ordered was exactly like I mentioned, a catalogue of items from which you simply picked up stuff and ordered.

The newly organized (at least for me) rewards program offered dozens of vouchers that you could procure and subsequently shop with. For lazy folk such as yours truly (I am sure the women folk out there would have labelled me that the moment I said I wanted to get something for my anniversary and wife’s birthday from a reward point catalogue!) going to malls and shopping is not a preferred option.

The other option of course was to do online shopping using the reward points accumulated. This could be done at a “partner online site” which I did. I picked a couple of items and checked out having paid with my reward points. I promptly received an email promising delivery within 10 days. Reasonable I thought since I had 12 days to go for the anniversary.

All leader sites at least the ones that I have shopped with progress your order through various stages from receipt to order being placed to vendor to staging to shipping and ultimately deliver.  What’s more they send e-mails and SMS informing you of progress.

None of that happened in this case.  Anxious whether the gift would indeed reach in time for the birthday if not the anniversary I placed a call to the customer care who had no new information to offer save the standard “Your order is being processed Sir”.  I specifically asked whether they’d able to ship at all and was willing to change my order to some other product that could be. Assurances were given and accepted. Cutting to the chase, despite repeated calls to the customer care centre, emails and tweets no information was shared and one fine day after 30 days of placing the order I got a quiet message on twitter saying they couldn’t execute my order.

The tale of woe doesn’t end, now I am forced to utilize the considerable amount of money again with the same online shopping portal, since they (as stated) do not have a process to refund cash against the points nor can they reverse/re-instate my points to the credit card provider.


Now for the brand angle. Here’s a service provider who is supposedly treating me “nice” by rewarding my use of their service.  By logical extension of the premise the reward experience is owned by the primary brand which is the credit card provider. The role of executing/making tangible the reward experience is performed by the secondary brand i.e. the online shopping site.  Since the primary brand has pre-chosen with whom I get to shop, the responsibility of the experience is theirs.

A bad service rendered by the secondary brand as is a reflection on the primary brand. This is no different from the normal course where brands chose partners for delivering their services either through retailers, franchisees etc. The brand is responsible.

Outsourcing is good but brands, more importantly the people running them should be aware that outsourcing a process does not transfer the accountability of the process. Regardless of which part of the operations the outsourced process lies in there is no absolution!

A brand that does not or cannot provide top notch products and services to its direct consumers will invariably falter, more so with indirect consumers/customers. Therefore killing your brand!

A simple mantra so that you don’t end up sleeping with your enemy is being accountable.  NO ESCAPE!

No Escape

Need: Before entering into partnerships, one must be absolutely certain that the service or component of your service that is being outsourced to a partner brand is not a core capability. The value add of another brand is significantly higher than what you could achieve alone.

Objective: It is necessary to have a clear idea of what we are going to achieve by virtue of entering such a partnership. Common sense? Yes. Do we all think this through? Doubtful.

Evaluate: The worst mistake one can make is hop on to the first train that comes in.  Age old wisdom requires us to compare the offering and relative strengths of the suitors. Again something that tends to be overlooked.

Select: We tend to go for the familiar. Give the job to someone who already works with us. They are looking to expand, have some competence and a great relationship already exists so why not continue it. Strategic partnering is about the strategy and not the partnering per se.  The basis of selection should be basis congruence and competence only.  Relationship at best can have a weight but cannot be the guiding factor.

Communicate expectations: We know what we need, what we need to achieve. Now communicating it in a clear, unambiguous and unequivocal manner is necessary.

Agreed deliverables:  It is important for the partner to see it from your perspective. Agreement should be the outcome of having shared and communicated rather than just a contractual obligation.

Processes: Having done all the hard work, processes and their metrics should be defined and measured. As they say you cannot analyse what you don’t measure.

Evaluate periodically: Corollary to the above you cannot improve unless you have analysed.

 The above is applicable regardless of you choosing a vendor, an agency or a strategic partner. Better safe than sorry!