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Brand X's and O's

By Paulo Ribeiro

X marks the unforced error. And, what can we learn from it?

What the hell does this have to do with the Active Lifestyle Business? Nothing. And everything. This spectacular implosion has everyone talking about ‘Brand’ and this gives us an opportunity to break down what a powerful brand is (and isn’t).

From Linda Yaccarino, CEO of Twitter (really?!? Does anyone believe Elon’s ceded control of anything?):

[Tweet from Linda Yaccarino]

Um, ok….


First, let’s establish what we mean when we are talking about ‘brand’ 


An intentionally strategic focus that guides the services, experiences and messages from a company. The purpose of that strategic focus is to form an emotional connection in a consumer’s mind of what the brand’s values are. People align with brands that share their values. That emotional connection delivers real monetary value to the company. Actions speak louder than words (or images, no matter how well designed)


Exhibit A: Many Nike sneakers and smaller brands are made in the same factories using the same materials with often very similar form factors. When the Nike sneaker is sold for $175 and a comparable Saucony sneaker (made in the same factory)  goes for $105, that $70 difference is the real value of the Nike brand.  


The thing that makes the boneheaded Twitter to X shift so damn fascinating is that it was made by an absolutely legendary brand innovator: Elon Musk. 


Exhibit B: Every single move by brand Tesla, particularly in the early days, served as a master class in how to build a focused brand through consistent ACTIONS instead of through say advertising impression for example. 


Instead of car lots, Tesla’s were hyped in small ~1,000 sq foot footprints in malls. Forget test driving, many could barely hold a single car you could sit in.  This yielded the amazing benefits of saving money on real estate and showing up in a completely differentiated way from the competition. 


Customers used iPad screens where they virtually designed their car, or signed up for a waitlist. Potential customers logging in from home had all the same tools and soon learned they didn’t even have to go to the mall.


The waitlist highlighted scarcity (which is Luxury’s playbook to increase margins). They gave everyone on the waitlist sneak peaks and special content—allowing customers to feel special. And we all heard about it. The waitlist spawned rabid, vocal fans who snowballed the company’s marketing through word of mouth. They were not just buying a car, they bought into a movement. 

Elon as Founder leaned into even more audacious pursuits like designing the HyperLoop to ferry people between SF and LA in minutes and then gave away the plans (hello, PR mentions). He built a real rocket company, SpaceX, which generates endless PR, this in turn delivers credibility back to Tesla. The Tesla brand now has permission to enter into a range of businesses including some very expensive and technically complex ones such as home and corporate energy storage. All of this because of a singular brand focus: delivering the future of transportation.

I could write for a month and not be able to adequately convey how good the bird logo is and how bad the X is. Full disclosure, I’m biased. My friend and former collaborator Martin Grasser Designed it. And Jack Dorsey co-signed with this. Agreed.

Exhibit C: Twitter is a communication platform. A tweet is (was?) a short burst of information first 140 characters and over time added a bit of imagery and/or video. But always short, focused, timely communication flying around the internet. With this it's easy to see how that focused brand position provides permission to grow into sharing other types of timely information…or connections…or moving money.  All of this focus was encapsulated in that elegant blue bird.  Prof G estimates the current value being thrown away to be in the range of $10B (or more).

Conversely, what is X? Well, it's everything they say. Right but what is it for? Everything. Ok, cool. When I need everything I’ll make sure to use that. For the next decade or so though, I’ll use products that have PROVEN their focus and expertise to me over time. I’ll make decisions faster where I don’t have to think too hard about their values or what they do well. 


In the outdoor arena brand identities (name, logo, etc…) like Patagonia and The North Face were intuitively appropriate (good enough for those demanding environments) AND over time they were imbued with meaning and carried that value. Dave Lane has a nice backstory about why the Dead Bird became arc’teryx’s logo. But he’ll be the first to say that they initially chose it as a logo because it was unlike anything in the market. But now… Well the dead bird is completely imbued with the credibility of intensely tested products with high design. Nike was an academic choice (and a bit obscure) choice when it came out, but it is now imbued with decades of performance and empowerment proof. Whereas, On Running’s proof of cushioning as good as running on air is more recent. In all cases these brands have value PRIMARILY because of the actions taken by the companies to prove their credibility in a focused way. And now, well let’s just say none of those organizations are dumb enough to throw that value away. 


A brand can launch with the advantage of a thoughtfully designed and wordsmithed brand identity and/or campaign (like the blue bird was for Twitter). But regardless of whether a brand got a headstart or not, the real value is created over time by consistency of actions. Brand equity is built and proven by a focused brand strategy. 


Recently, there hasn’t been any focus from the brand formerly known as Twitter. This will be fun to watch because if we all learn from mistakes, then we stand to learn quite a lot from a dumpster full of them. 

[Retweet from Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square]

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