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Whose Logo Is It, Anyway?

Case Study: “The customer’s perception is your reality” — Kate Zabriskie, Customer Experience Consultant

Jaywant and Amir sat at the Wayside Café and shredded Vinayak Morro’s ideas, one by one.

Jaywant who had been talking about the case of Tropicana’s logo change said, “They made changes because they wanted to modernise the brand. What is our reason? Morro is making changes for the sake of change.

Amir: Ok, in the case of Tropicana, did the logo change?

Jaywant: The logo that was the name Tropicana itself, went vertical from horizontal. And just as Morro has added a strip SUPERMARKET to the logo, Tropicana reduced the font to accommodate: ‘100% Orange Pure and Natural’.

Many consumers, they say, didn’t recognise the product on shop shelves. I told you, a logo is like a macro. It captures the entire brand's wealth and virtues. In one glance, you just know this rice is a Farm-O-Maid store brand, and that means a paragraph of values and attributes that you have over the years come to take for granted: pure, handpicked, genuine, cleaned… it even speaks for the packaging as being food safe, tear free, and whatnot! And all this is a capsule of faith in the brand. Now, if we change some elements, the logo ceases to look like the FoM brand! Why, it even ceases to be My Brand. I am confused. I don’t find my brand. I have to stop and figure, my brain spazzes...

And then there was a silly shift from 100 per cent to ‘Pure’! Now, how shattering is that? Is pure the same as 100 per cent? I would have doubted the changed semantics and wondered, where is the catch?

While Jaywant and Amir were debating, elsewhere, Kaavya was discussing with Vinayak Morro, why she felt changing the logo was premature. What follows are snippets from two distinct streams of discussions, yet on the same subject.

Kaavya: Branding plays a different role for a chain of supermarkets and for a standalone store. For a standalone, the shoppers usually go to the shop because they know the owner, because it is next door, because it is convenient. Whereas in a chain, the whole logic and rationale of the imagery and brand comes into question because I want to pull customers across all geographies and I want people to come looking for my store. So, it is not driven by relationship but by the positioning and what I stand for. So Hypercity, Nature’s Basket, WalMart … all communicate via their logo, their value propositions. You know and I know, this is why chains go for a logo, branding, a unique identity.

Vinayak: Obviously I want that the logo we use comes to stand for what the mother group stands for. Or the logo should communicate what the brand FoM stands for. Which I feel is currently not so…

Kaavya: Sorry, wait, wait…. But you are not changing the FoM name, isn’t it. These tweaks, how are they benefitting anybody? Importantly, is it helping the brand in any way? The brand will not change with a logo change!

Jaywant to Amir: Narcissim, wants to show who the boss is.

Amir: I have heard that he was told by his astrologer that a given colour should be accompanied by another colour. So, while the original blue colour was predominant he has to now add red. So, he has introduced the supermarket strip in red. Shahista, who works in his office, told me that in another of his group companies too he ensured the colour combo was brought about. In other words, he has gone to town with his superstition.

Kaavya: Be real. Business is guided a lot by omens and numbers and dates and vaastu and feng shui… it is there in every business house. And beliefs are a private thing. It is best not to judge. We all have our coping strategies…. Life is tough.

But what Vinayak had told the advertising team was that while the base colour was fine, the shade was creating a negative connotation in terms of association and imagery. That he needed to bring about a balance. So, he was retaining the original blue but adding the red to be in sync with the overall Morro mother colours, blue and red. But that he might even alter the shade of blue.

Vinayak had changed something else too. By adding a curl over the O of Farm-O-Maid, he had sought to lend to FarmO, the Whole Foods aura of fresh fruit and vegetables. To recap, Vinayak Morro, in making changes to FarmO’s logo, had sought to make it look like the American Whole Foods brand logo.

Vinayak however said something different to Amir during one of his interactions with his team present. “I would like that curl to become a cockscomb… a little more elaborate than a curl.”

When Kaavya’s jaw dropped, he said, “Over time, not immediately, I might want to add a refrigerated foods section for meats. I know FarmO has been a vegetarian brand. I don’t want to actively disturb the current clientele, upset them, offend them or lose them. But at the same time, this is business and we should not lose sight of the fact that there is a significant non-veg community that is growing around us. And there is a significantly growing migrant and expat population, so there is growing diversity. People are moving cities for short periods to accomplish tasks for their employers. Like Devesh is moving to Kolkata to work with 3Ps for some of our outsourcing. So see, he is going to stay in a rented house and he is likely to rustle up his meals in his kitchen. Do you get what I am saying? There are so many such Deveshs in India who are adding a new dimension to demand. Should FarmO be losing that customer especially when FarmO has every other ingredient that assures a great product?”

But Jaywant could not identify with that point. “And I will tell you why. As a store I can stand only for one thing,” he said to Kaavya. “I cannot stand for everything to everybody. A Nature’s Basket can be a gourmet food outlet. It cannot also cater to the mass consumer who wants to buy onions at the lowest price.”

Kaavya: I got it. He is therefore exiting the ‘pure vegetarian’ segment….

Jaywant: Then he should be clear about the identity that he wants FarmO to have, isn’t it? If he is going to try and communicate a quasi non vegetarian image also, then he is going to fall between the stools. He can’t add that cockscomb over the O and not have poultry in the fridge. Does not make sense. Or he adds it and also gets the chicken in. In which case, he is going to alarm the Jain community and alienate them totally. As for the non-veg community, they will always remember FarmO as a vegetarian store and not likely to make it their first choice of supermarket.

At the next meeting with Vinayak Morro, Kaavya said, “Vinayak, there is a rumour. Are we vacating the vegetarian position we occupy?”

Vinayak: I am not saying I am vacating it, but I am planning to introduce some select non-veg gourmet products. We spoke about this briefly. I may not immediately go for cold cuts, etc., but I am thinking about gravies and pastes, which both vegetarians and non-vegetarians can use. Like a Butter Chicken gravy can also be used for Paneer Makhni...

Kaavya: Eh? How do you retain the vegetarian position after entering non-vegetarian? You have been maintaining there is no major shift in strategy…

As a stunned Kaavya heard, Vinayak said, “Sooner or later we will have to enter the non-veg segment also. There is no escaping that. Take Whole Foods….

"There you go!” exclaimed Jaywant. “I told you! He is trying to imbibe the Whole Food format. They have a huge salad segment what they call prepared foods, which is a ready-to-eat bar with sandwiches, DIYs, pies and sushis round the clock – be it for a school-going child who wants to grab a takeaway for snack break, be it an office-goer, a tired mother… anybody. The spread is incredibly vast, healthy, nutritious, fresh whatnot.”

Vinayak to Kaavya: And you can fault that plan? This is what I want to introduce. FarmO has the precise demeanor and attractiveness. If vegetarian is about ‘care’, then I am appropriating that ‘care’ dimension via this new avatar!

Somewhere Kaavya began to feel the beginnings of confusion. “Not confusion, but a need to revisit my own resistance to this. Is Vinayak right after all?”
Jaywant: His agenda will unfold a little at a time. I wish, he would come clean and say it all. He is confusing us. Think of staff morale!

Kaavya: Um… I am not getting that dramatic Jay… from a pure professional viewpoint I only want to see what happens. Is it right to change the logo? Gosh, I don’t know. Now we see that he is going ahead with his plan anyway…. So, what if we assume he is right and wait and watch?

On another occasion Vinayak said, “I am definitely entering the non-veg segment. It can be ready-to-eat, it can be ready-to-cook, it can be ready-to-serve…” and quoting this to Jaywant, Kaavya said, “What other reasons could he have for changing the logo?”

Jaywant: I told you, narcissism, ‘I am the boss I can do what I want.’ Even this non-veg segment is only a ruse to justify a plan he has already decided upon: to change the logo. In essence, the introduction of non-veg products is not cutting ice with me. Because, you don’t need to do a minor tweak to the logo to make a range change, unless you are making a dramatic change to your offering. I think he is just throwing thoughts around…. No serious meaning there…

Before long, FarmO’s key officers got together to discuss. Earlier all key officers were in unison that Vinayak was wrong. Now they were divided.

Amir: Since everybody is hypothesising, I too will… even if you are planning to enter non-veg segment it does not mean that the vegetarians are going to leave the brand. It is our definition of ‘purity’. The only segment who will have a violent reaction will be the Jain segment.

Jaywant: I disagree. Purity is a non-negotiable definition.

Dorab: Even if he wants to enter non-vegetarian category, why change logo? My expansion or diversification ideas and plans should not affect my logo. The logo should stand for my core values – purity, wholesomeness, hygiene, dependability. Incidentally, vegetarian does not translate to purity. Who says that?

Devang: Look, guys, a deep freezer with poultry is not going to seriously impact shopper behaviour. It is incon-sequential. Especially when we are seeing that he is not very focused on the Jain community as a core segment. That community was relevant to Nandalalji, but Morro is not Jain so he is not driven. That being so, why fiddle with the logo? So, the non-veg argument is over.

Amir: If he does not want to have anything to do with the old owners, he should go for a total makeover …

Kaavya: Cannot. There is a core equity and the owners are not germane to the logo. Owners will keep changing. The brand has to stand for the same thing to the consumer.

Later to Vinayak: Ok, I agree you may have some plans for the brand and the service. Then why do it in a phased manner? Right now, without any visible change to services, change to logo is causing dissonance. As it is the change in ownership will lead to media speculation over loss of perceived brand purity. Finally, the consumer takes away a sigma of brand attributes…

Vinayak: In retail it’s the other way round. The actual branding happens inside the store. As long as the basic store operations, range and pricing is not changed, the consumer will just continue to come back to the store.

Jaywant: He has confused me even more. If he admits branding is happening inside the store, then why change the logo, which is an external?

Vinayak: It is a good time to make fresh appeal. The youth and demographics have changed, FoM does not reveal any attitude to youth. For me that’s huge. The cities have lot more young people. Am I wanting to carry a 50-year-old brand image that is not speaking to today’s generation? The new economy is employing far more young people, more young people are living alone, cooking their own meal, a lot more youth think health, think fitness, think hygiene and healthy eating. Your old logo is not delivering on that. Nandalal is a good guy, but he did not think about the changing demographics.

FarmO, the brand, is living in a well with only a frog’s view of the world, Kaavya. Nandalal had never explored modern retailing. Understand he set up FarmO at a time when there were no known supermarkets. So, the model worked through a combination of beginner’s luck and novelty that consumers grew to like….

Kaavya: That would be unfair. You have just wrapped all his effort into one ball and thrown it to the winds. The fact that his brand came to be seen for its purity, wholesomeness, dependability… all that is beginner’s luck? What we call marketing strategy is the entrepreneur's intuition and market understanding in his head and few decades later, when business grows to a large size, many of these intuition aspects need to be institutionalised via formal understanding and breaking down into parts. Yes, there is some amount of luck, but we cannot undervalue Nandalal’s marketing insight and business acumen.

Vinayak: Well said. But FarmO worked because there was nothing else to challenge it. No doubt the store brands are fabulous and he has ingeniously sourced his vendors, fixed the quality, etc. I am not undermining that. If it was completely without merit, would I be buying the brand?

But truth is also this: FarmO needs to begin to stand for much more. The retail world is about much more. Veg and non-veg is the least of my problems. The supply chain, the quality across all outlets, the essential philosophy of the brand, its consistency of delivery… these need to be recognised and known. Expanding in size in a different competitive market scenario is different. After a certain size, the supply chain structure, regional needs and critical mass comes in to play and to do that, one may need to expand nationally but to expand nationally in a profitable way, one needs critical mass and for larger critical mass, one may need expanded brand offering. That is the chain of growth… you get me?

And what does the FarmO logo stand for? You say it stands for this, this and this... but have those assessments come from the consumer? Has the consumer interpreted the logo? I think not. The consumer has described the brand, not the logo. It is the general belief that the logo is what the consumer thinks of the brand.

When I see the FarmO logo, I feel warm and I know this is a dependable brand of food products of every kind that I can buy, stock and use to create great food. But is it communicating the brand’s potential?

an exhausted Kaavya took the discussion to Vishal her senior from Teffer:

Vishal: Brands do, and should try to expand their franchise by targeting new needs of the same customer base or new customers or both. There is nothing wrong in that. The deciding factors are: relevance of the offering to the customer base and the competitiveness / differentiation of the ‘altered’ positioning, by virtue of new offerings. We can always argue for relevance because everything is relevant to someone, for example, Apple can be phone, music, computers and perhaps even cars. Yes, it would be relevant as an airline as well. The issue is what would you stand for in that larger space to your TG?

If you can afford to alienate your existing franchise (because the incremental revenue gain is substantial), then brands are welcome to go on expanding their offering and franchise ... and positioning. However, if the alienation due to new offering can lead to revenue loss that possibly cannot compensate for the gains, then where is the wisdom in pursuing those new offerings? This is not an easy call to make. The temptation to expand the boundaries of business / brand and yet retain uniqueness in positioning is an eternal quest of business people.

The point I am making, Kaavya, is there is always a case for expanding the franchise of the brand for growth but the key issues are how elastic is the brand versus its defined positioning and relevance of the added offerings. This is the classical debate about keeping the brand positioning sharp rather than dilute its equity and positioning to gain short term business by expanding but ultimately losing long term. This will ultimately lead to less differentiation and competition being able to attack you.

Since Kaavya could not see these reasons in Vinayak’s moves, at least he did not mention those as his reasons, she had placed ‘self-interest’ as a veiled accusation before him.

Vinayak: Of course, it is about me, no doubt! It is about the fact that I have taken this over. So, what I think and what I feel has to manifest in the logo, for that is the face of the brand. And the logo sits on the signage and that is what talks to you when you as a new consumer look at a store. So right at the start, when you look at my signage, I want you to know that the new owner stands for freshness, newness, modernity, youthfulness, progress and young thinking. I am not saying the old owner stood for nothing; I am saying – I have come in and with me will come my newness. I know there is nothing visible, tangible to show for new changes; but it will come slowly. It will come once I inject that idea.

Why should I be shy of saying ‘Of course, it is about me, Morro?’ So, it is, and hence also about how I see the brand FarmO!

Read Analysis by: V. Rajesh | Vivek Sharma


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