Brand Positioning Surveys
Blockbuster’s Oops! Moment
My friend Bruce Wiseman founded a market research company that for more than 27 years has delivered brand positioning surveys to companies of all sizes. His articles* inspire and lend us bits of Americana that give us pause for thought. (*edited by me, when posted here.)
“I am intrigued almost to the point of obsession to know what this Native American was thinking.
“Did he have any sense of what was coming?
“Did he know that passengers on the trains that would travel this line would shoot the buffalo herds that raced with the train, for sport?
“The buffalo population — about 50 million in 1830 — would be wiped out in less than two decades.
“Did he know that Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse would lead the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho in a great victory over General George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn, eight years hence?
“Yet, Custer’s Last Stand would mark a key turning point in U.S. history: American Indians would find themselves relegated to reservations, their culture destroyed.
“Not unless he could foretell the future could he know.
“But even if he could have known, and he and his fellow Native Americans taken steps to mitigate the damage, they lacked the resources to halt the relentless advance that was America’s pioneer movement.
Blockbuster Knew Better
“On November 6, 2013, Blockbuster announced that it was closing its remaining stores. Founded in 1985, the company had boomed during the short-lived reign of VHS video rental. At it’s peak, the company fielded nearly 9,000 stores with a market value of $5 billion dollars.
“Our Native American may have only sensed the coming changes of the relentless, westward march of the American frontier, but Blockbuster had every reason to be aware of the light-speed-like changes that filmed entertainment ushered into people’s homes with the Digital Revolution. Blockbuster’s executives stayed with their store-rental paradigm until its competitor, Netflix, drove its brand and service into movie-watchers’ homes. By then it was too late.
“They were even so arrogant as to blow off the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000. Today, Netflix has a market cap of $20 billion.
“Blockbuster’s light bulbs finally went on and it tried to re-capture market share by rolling out a rent-by-mail program, and then a streaming-video service. Netflix, however, already owned this position in the public’s mind. If Blockbuster would have any success at this attempt, they should have rolled out a new brand. Blockbuster meant video… and late fees… in the public’s mind; not mail rental or streaming video.
“In announcing the closing of the stores, DISH Network CEO Joseph Clayton — DISH had bought Blockbuster out of bankruptcy in 2011 — said, “… We continue to see value in the Blockbuster brand and we expect to leverage that [value and] brand as we continue to expand our digital offerings.”
“We must ask Joseph Clayton:
“‘Joe, since your marketing people don’t seem to understand positioning, may we, considering that Blockbuster does own a position in the minds of the public that watches movies at home, which is VHS… and late fees (Do a survey, Joe, you’ll find out.), offer you an observation or two?
“‘If you are going to roll out a digital offering or a rent-by-mail service successfully, Joe, do it with a new brand. Use your cash and resources to survey your existing clients; and then survey Netflix clients to get their ‘hot buttons.’
“‘Use that information, Joe, to work up some potential names, and a sexy new service offering based on what your prospects told you they wanted. Then, survey your list of names to find out which would most motivate people to switch from Netflix to buy or add on your product.'”
Bankruptcy Broke Blockbuster… or Did It?
“Clayton and his cronies saw equity in the name Blockbuster because they paid $320 million — a bankruptcy price for the brand. Blockbuster for 25 years drove its brand into the public mind, positioned with in-store movie rentals, but the public’s perception of a brand cannot be changed with a decision spawned in the corporate boardroom. The marketplace doesn’t work that way. Like it or not, one owns one place, a position, in the public’s mind for better or worse.
“The 25-year-old Blockbuster brand earned its gold watch. Let it retire to the old-brand home to play dominoes with E.F. Hutton, Compaq Computer and Pan Am, among other forlorn brands.
“We, therefore, implore of Clayton and his circle to ‘roll out a fresh new brand that resonates with today’s home-movie-watching public.'”
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Give It a New Brand
This approach is cleaner, faster, and less expensive than trying to re-position a brand from the 90’s. Somebody should call Joe and tell him that we’ll be happy to discuss his options, perhaps do some brand positioning surveys for him, even at this stage of the game… or perhaps, his next venture?
Of course, whether Joe calls or not, we’d be delighted to hear from you to discuss your brand, your position, your surveys… and whatever way we can be of service. After all, we’ve been producing brand positioning surveys for lots of companies for years.
Bruce & Ron
Ron Kule, President,
Research Target Group, for On-Target Research and Bruce Wiseman
“You folks are the scope on the rifle. My only regret was that the brand positioning surveys weren’t done sooner. We could have saved large sums of money.” — R.W., President
© 2014 by Ronald Joseph Kule & Bruce Wiseman. Reserved.