A friend in the UK shared with me some glorious branding nonsense coming from Morrisons, a large supermarket chain.
The company's business strategy seems eminently sensible: build on its strengths -- distribution, pricing, and history -- to deliver food that's fresher than its competitors. There are functional attributes that can differentiate it, and lots of ways to earn the trust and commitment of shoppers. The company has deep roots in Yorkshire, which is a region known for people who are hard-working and direct.
Too bad its branding has nothing to do with any of that.
You know the drill. New guy takes the reins, and about six months later there's a new image campaign underway. Morrisons presented its version of this kabuki drama last March on a slide entitled Development Areas in a presentation to analysts. It read "inconsistent perception of the brand." The rest of the bullets identified other problem areas, such as poor selection, cluttered stores, outdated systems, and competency gaps in the organization. All were separate items.
Of course, a design firm was already hard at work, having beat out the braintrust responsible for that shockingly jarring London 2012 logo. A few weeks after the declaration about its inconsistencies, Morrisons had a fresh, new approach to its brand.
It replaced this logo:
With this one:
I know. You’re trying to calm yourself.
The brilliance of the font selection, layout, and color scheme has taken your breath away.
The resonance of the yellow.
The implied trust of the serifs on the M.
The whiteness, representing freedom and possibility.
The new M truly captures the ideal of Morrisons imagined position.
And it only gets, er, gloriouser. Ads promoting it use TV personality Denise Van Outen pushing a shopping cart through green fields, on board a fishing boat, and down a busy street. She's left off her make-up and skipped combing her hair, so she can look more like the frazzled would-be shoppers who're supposed to care about the spots. There's a new cut-line with the word "fresh" in it.
Voila! Brand fixed.
Unfortuntately, Morrisons have fixed nothing but the profit margin for its branding consultants.
We can endlessly dissect the logo, just as reviewers examine TV commercials as if they were high art. But it's all rather irrelevant, isn't it? Any company can create a logo and hope it says just about anything. Most do. And don't. A logo has no inherent meaning, or lasting associations, separate from what behaviors it represents, or prompts.
The Morrisons M needs to represent progress on all those other Development Areas on that slide. Its branding problem isn't that its customers have inconsistent perceptions of its brand, but rather that they consistently experience it for what it truly is: poor selection, cluttered stores, outdated systems, and competency gaps in the organization. Just past the shiny new M is reality. The stores are the brand, especially in a high-frequency experiential category like supermarkets.
So why not make those changes themselves the substance of the brand communications -- the real things it can and must do to differentiate itself -- and only then plaster a new M (or whatever) on it?
Good question, with no good answer other than that Sir Ken Morrison has become intoxicated with the promise of branding blather (the new CEO is a former Heineken lifer, and beer marketers are notorious spenders on the vagaries of brands). It'll certainly report frequently on its brand index, to track its imaginary results that can't be deciphered in actual bottom-line performance.
Imagine a different approach.
Morrisons realizes that its brand potential is embedded in its operational aspirations, so it sets out to quite literally reinvent each of its 370+ stores and retrain/reincentivize its 100,000+ employees. It announces its intention to change the shopping experience for every customer in the UK. All of the elements of local, fresh, responsible, and whatever are declared.
Then it goes about doing it.
Makes each store a project that involves local press, local suppliers, etc. The pitch to shoppers is the becoming of a new concept in supermarkets, not a declaration of imagined brand destination, position, or DNA, or whatever. Every communications activity involves them, giving them reasons to visit, or soliciting their ideas, in ways that evoke the involvement they remember (really or wistfully) from back in the nostalgic days of local butchers and shopkeepers. Involve the employees, too, and make them a visible part of the customer experience. Build on traditions while building new ones. Announce each store as it has been re-invented. Ask customers to come back, again and again.
This approach would give Morrisons any number of opportunities for more press, more meaningful ads, and more events to prompt consumer traffic. It could form the basis for more evolved and involving CRM. And it could buy it the space to make mistakes, such as the recent e.coli breakout at two of its stores in August.
Brand as ongoing behavior is just more credible than fantasies of branding communications. The reality of such a program would be so much more compelling than the slick and expensive redesign of its logo, website, and TV campaign.
But hey, instead Morrisons bought a really nice M.