What Barnes & Noble and Blackberry can learn From Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis

by Allen Adamson

Managing Director,

based in Landor, New York

Allen Adamson, managing director of our New York office, comments on brand transformation through the lens of Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

By now, most of the debate about why “Lincoln” and its venerated director, Steven Spielberg, didn’t take home Academy Awards for Best Picture and Directing has subsided. Don’t worry. I’m not here to bring it up again, at least not from a cineaste’s point of view. Yes, I thought it was a very compelling movie and I’m glad it did as well as it did at the box office, especially given the diminishing attention span of most of the American movie-going public. What I am here to say relative to the movie derives not from any inner film critic inclination but, rather, from my branding professional’s point of view on life. Specifically, what I’d like to put forward is that I think Steven Spielberg and his rock-solid star, Daniel Day-Lewis, offer up a good learning opportunity for what it takes to transform a brand today. Lest you think it sounds a bit, well, dramatic, let me explain.

A brand is not a product or service, per se, but an image in your head. Brand anchors are points of consumer experience that lock down this image. They are those unique and unambiguous associations we link with the brand that give it shape and substance and meaning. McDonald’s and its fast burgers and golden arches. Southwest and its friendly fares and flight attendants. Kellogg’s and its snap, crackle and pop. Zappos and its extensive array of shoes and no-hassle return policy. Reinforcement over time–intentional or otherwise–at particular points of interaction with the brand set these anchors deep into the cerebral matter. Once a consumer has grabbed hold of these associations it’s incredibly difficult to unmoor them. In fact getting people to think about your brand in a totally different way is one of the most demanding challenges in the arena of branding. This means that if your brand is in need of a transformation due to any number of reasons, from loss of differentiation in its category to, equally hazardous, loss of relevance, you’ve got a tough road to hoe.

And, from my branding professional’s point of view, that’s exactly the road that both Blackberry and Barnes & Noble are staring down. Blackberry, which used to be the standard bearer PDA for the business elite, is dealing with (getting pummeled by?) stiff competition from both Apple and Samsung. That it has a keyboard that lets you type easily and do your emailing effortlessly is no longer a differentiating factor. What else is new? Barnes & Noble, facing both a struggling Nook business and questions about what to do with its retail business is also in a position to think about a repositioning opportunity. If you’re the Barnes & Noble brand and you’re anchored as “book store” in peoples’ minds, how do you transform your brand into something that goes beyond stacks of books and magazines to browse through? This is no longer all that different or relevant a business model now that consumers can get their reading material from myriad other sources, many more readily accessible.

I posit that what you do to transform your brand is take a page out of the Spielberg-Day-Lewis script. It’s not easy, mind you, and requires lots of effort and planning, but done well it’s bound to lead to success, albeit not necessarily an Academy Award. To begin with, and most obvious, you need to know what you want your brand to–now–stand for. A definite idea of how you want your brand to be perceived.   In Spielberg’s case, he had a clear vision of what would distinguish and set his “Lincoln” apart from any other rendition.  Second, he knew exactly what associations would be necessary to get people to cut their current anchored images of the 16th president and take hold of new ones.  To that end, he had to create powerful and believable proof points, or branding signals, to cement the transformation in viewers’ heads.  The world of the Lincoln-era Washington he created was incredibly accurate and realistic, from the White House with its dim lighting, to the Senate with its waist-coated and bearded men, from the wallpaper to the rugs, and everything in between, no detail was spared in the cause of authenticity.

Then, in terms of the characterization of Lincoln, it was the Oscar-winning Daniel Day-Lewis who took it upon himself to the man, from his voice to his mannerisms and behavior. On a segment of “60 Minutes,” just prior to the film’s release Day-Lewis told correspondent, Lesley Stahl, that he actually stayed in character both on the movie set and off during the entire filming period so as not to lose the spirit and disposition of the eponymous part he played. Transformation, he understood, is not really transformation if you’ve only scratched the surface and haven’t delved into those deeper regions that influence actions, deeds, and personality.

Any brand that wants to transform itself must do the same. It must create proof points beyond merely the cosmetic that tangibly demonstrate that something is not merely different, but different in a way that really matters to people. These proof points must be, without fail, catalytic experiences, strong enough and believable enough to break the long-anchored associations that consumers have regarding the brand. This is one of the reasons Blackberry is having such a hard time. Sure, it changed its formal name, and sure, it had a super ad during the Super Bowl proclaiming that it was a whole new brand of Blackberry. But, it hasn’t yet shown enough solid enough evidence to allow people to have absolute faith in its transformation. The brand experience hasn’t shown, to date, it’s not the same as it ever was.

In terms of Barnes & Noble and the anchors holding its brand in place, transformation will mean moving away from being seen as a distributor of books to something of a totally different nature and, perhaps, in a totally new environment. What if you walked into a Barnes & Noble and instead of just rows of books and a café in the corner, for instance, you saw a warm and inviting auditorium along with a list of the visiting professors who would be lecturing that month, or an eHarmony area where first-daters could be assured of a cozy, yet safe place to meet up. When you walked through the door of a Barnes & Noble, in other words, there would have to be a significant and tangible signals that indicated this was not the brand it used to be.

It is really hard to transform brands. It takes much more than just a well-written television advertisement or even some extreme make-over of logo. You have to take the brand’s positioning to a whole new place, free yourself from the anchors that hold it steadfastly in place, and replace them with a new set of anchors. People are skeptical. To believe that a brand is truly transformed they need to see it and actually experience it. Whatever you may communicate on the outside must appropriately reflect what’s going on inside. Appearing to be something different is not the same as being something different. As Spielberg and Day-Lewis recognized, you have to know where you’re going and you have to create signals that tell the story not only in a new way, but are authentic right down to the last detail. If you haven’t seen “Lincoln,” go see it. I’d enjoy your opinion.


Link to the original article: http://landor.com/#!/talk/blog/what-barnes-noble-and-blackberry-can-learn-from-steven-spielberg-and-daniel-day-lewis/


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