Extreme Makeover, Brand Edition — Will it be a “Love Shack”?

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 22, 2010 at 10:08 am

At any given moment, too many people in funky glasses and expensive t-shirts are sitting in conference rooms having “brand discussions.” They’re trying to “capture the essence of the brand” or “leverage the brand’s full synergistic opportunities.” (Sorry: But these people really do talk like that.)

Now, full disclosure: I have participated in such conversations. I have done so in all seriousness and, occasionally, with some success. As I’ve done so, I’ve learned a few things.

First of all, most clients believe in the power of the world-changing brand (see: Nike, Pixar, FedEx, etc.). They want you to give them a brand that will set the world on fire, or a subtle tweak to an existing brand that will make it emerge from the crowd. They want miracles.

In pursuit of such miracles, I’ve seen great brand-development processes, and I’ve endured horrible ones. I’ve seen success and failure from both. That’s the nature of the beast: When you’re panning for gold, sometimes you succeed through a brilliant and focused process; other times, you trip over a nugget while fumbling around like an idiot.

I thought of these realities when I read a recent blog post from the smart people at Hetrick Communications (www.tellhetrick.com). Creative Director Mary Hayes mused out loud about the recent shift in the Radio Shack brand. The holder of a sharp brand brain, Mary summed up much of the brand conundrum with her headline: Radio Shack drops the Radio and threatens my brand experience. (Click headline to view blog.)

The key words are “my brand experience.” That’s what a brand is about these days: Making the “brand experience” personal. The responses to Mary’s blog supported this: People talked less about the wisdom or idiocy of the new “Shack” brand, and more about how it resonated with their personal experiences with Radio Shack.

I added these thoughts:

Sure, I always knew the radio geeks at Radio Shack could come up with that odd cable, bizarre converter, or funky universal remote, but I more often thought of them as sellers of cheap remote control cars, whiz-bang electronic gadgets and inexpensive versions of things I buy because I can’t afford the “real thing.” I’ve never gone unless I needed one specific thing, and I never left with more than that one thing. If I had to sum up the brand impression for me, it would be something like “Shabby Geek.”

Still, as a cycling geek, I have to suggest that Radio Shack’s masterstroke — beyond all renaming and rebranding — is signing on as sponsor of Lance Armstrong’s cycling team. Lance and his teammates (some of cycling’s top dogs) have wasted no time embracing the brand and talking it up as “cool.” The guy who put added new zip to the United Postal Service and Discovery Channel brands; who put the name of the capital of Kazakhstan on the lips of Americans; who made a global passion out of the Tour de France, a race that had a dedicated but tiny following prior to the Attack of the Texan; and who made the colors yellow and black synonymous with cancer fighting and little rubber wrist bands a global phenom … he now is powering The Shack brand. Frankly, I think they change the name to anything — Telegraph Hut? Morse Code Bungalow? — and Lance could pedal them to the top of the marketing mountain.

The challenge of a brand is to make as many people as possible feel like it is their own personal brand. I have until now felt zero connection to Radio Shack, but its relationship with Lance Armstrong and a US cycling team make me see it in a new way. A personal way.

Now, that’s all well and good, but will I translate my Lance-worship into buying gadgets at The Shack? Will you change your Radio Shack perceptions and buying habits as a result of its evolution into The Shack? That’s what matters. Because, let’s face it: The world is littered with “cool brands” that did nothing for their organizations. Why? They failed to translate a “brand relationship” into a cash transaction. And it doesn’t get any more personal than that.


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