Burger King and Ford are diametrical in their current in-market strategies; one has holistically embraced innovation as its growth strategy, while the other seems to have embraced desperation. Lessons abound for marketers seeking the paths to their own go-to-market strategies.
Burger King just celebrated its 12th consecutive quarter of growth on the strength of such innovative product launches as Stackers, Chicken Tender Crisps and Enormous Omelet Sandwiches. It also continues to leverage the irreverent King through breakthrough media strategies.
Not as easy as it looks
Then, there's Ford. On the heels of a $12.7 billion 2006 loss, and desperate to revitalize short-term sales, it recently announced plans to re-tag the Ford 500 with the tired Taurus nameplate. If reviving a brand was as easy as Ford might make you think, then Oldsmobile, Netscape and Tears for Fears might want to get that magic formula shipped to them overnight!
Obviously, Ford is trying to recapture some of the magic that made the Taurus a 6.7-million-unit legend that consistently won awards and, at one point, sold more than 400,000 cars annually, making it the top selling car in America. Taurus was a powerful brand and a consistent revenue driver, but in what may have been some foreshadowing, Ford did not keep up with the times or customer needs.
After 20 years of honorable but diminishing service, the Taurus was retired, humbly relegated to fleet sales exclusively in its final year.
While it has taken Burger King a while to get there -- multiple ownership structures, advertising campaigns, management teams and go-to-market strategies over the past decade, all of which have made great fodder for us brand pundits -- they finally got it.
BK hones in
When Burger King finally landed on the target segment it wanted to win with most -- 18- to 35-year-old males -- and what was most important to them, the fast-food giant never looked back. It tapped into its roots while embracing innovation across all of the four P's.
Tactics such as SubservientChicken.com reignited the brand's relevance to a younger crowd while spurring epic levels of internet chat. The creative rebirth of its kingly (if creepy) brand icon through such savvy promotions as the much-sought-after Halloween masks and its XBox partnership helped give Burger King relevance.
With Ford and its Taurus revival, one wants to believe that this is the first in a series of tactical (not strategic) maneuvers to start to rally consumers, employees and investors by resurrecting an icon in a symbolic return to it roots. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is nothing more than re-tagging a failing model with a brand name that's irrelevant to today's consumers, in what appears to be a desperate attempt for short-term sales.
In the age of blogs, YouTube and product globalization, the rules of engagement have changed, yet many marketers cling to lifelines of successes past. Empowered CMOs now must choose between innovation and desperation.
Philosophically, the choice sounds easy. But when senior management faces short-term pressures in mature markets with highly discerning consumers, massive amounts of product proliferation, increasing channel saturation and scarce resources, a perfect storm may force desperate acts.
To choose, you need to ask three fundamental questions. How you respond will dictate your course.
1. Where does our brand credibly allow us to expand?
One of the most interesting turnarounds in recent years has been Kodak. Kodak is moving back to its original roots and brand values around "capturing of memories" and away from high-cost, slim-margin cameras and the fast-disappearing market for film. Kodak intends to help people organize and manage their personal libraries of images through a host of innovative digital-photo services. Among them: the Scan the World service, where yellowed snapshots are converted into digital images organized by date first printed.
Kodak got it right by staying true to its brand heritage, offering innovative consumer solutions in new markets where brand credibility is strong and never looking back.
2. What are the untapped opportunities that we can own?
For years, Dutch Boy was a strong but undifferentiated player in the hyper-competitive paint industry. The industry suffered from a less-than-consumer-friendly image, with traditional paint cans requiring a screwdriver to open, a wet towel to clean up the spillover and a hammer to seal shut. Letting other companies perfect colors, Dutch Boy introduced Twist & Pour, a long-overdue plastic, screw-top container. Soon after, Sherwin Williams, Dutch Boy's parent, allowed this innovation to be applied to the more widely distributed parent brand. On the heels of Twist & Pour, Dutch Boy has done it again with Ready to Roll, a project-size container with a built-in roller tray.
Sherwin Williams got it right by understanding consumer need states and innovating around product form, leveraging it across its entire product portfolio and never looking back.
3. What organizational competencies can we more effectively leverage to drive innovation?
Think of the insurance perfect storm: commoditization, channel proliferation, eroding trust, Fabio. Now, think about the things that anger you most about your insurance provider: coverage, complexity, rising premiums, agent dependency. Now think about Allstate's safe-driving bonuses, accident forgiveness and new-car expanded protection, with similar products coming soon for the home. Allstate has figured out a way to reconfigure its pricing to allow consumers to be in control by designing insurance policies that meet their individual needs.
Allstate got it right by leveraging new business models and innovating around the white space of consumer control, never looking back.
Nobody "chooses" desperation over innovation as the strategic course of action. But marketers that seek to use innovation to fuel business growth will find the path far smoother when they let the answers to these questions be their guide.