MARKETING SUCCESS SECRETS: UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMER
One of the most blatant examples of insulting the customer comes from Gap Inc., when the company changed its iconic logo abruptly in 2010. Overnight, the recognisable blue box went from classic to something that felt very down market and discounted. It offended loyal consumers—the new logo insulted their taste and their intelligence. Laird & Partners was the ad agency behind the new design, the Gap name displayed in a bold Helvetica font, with only the “G” capitalised, and a blue box placed behind the “p.” The change was not met with positive enthusiasm, to say the least—the Internet was on fire with criticism from design bloggers, customers, and other reviewers.
“It demonstrated the passion our customers and the community at large have for our brand” was the official company line. That’s a nice way of saying—it sucked. Gap failed to understand how its loyal customers feel about its brand identity. The company also underestimated the immediacy of social media—today customers can and do broadcast their opinions with lightning speed. Did this $3 billion corporation spend the same time on the logo change as it would on changing a crucial supply chain element? Did the ad executives (both at the agency and in-house) speak to any actual consumers? People will always comment on the new, and Gap Inc. should have recognised and proactively managed that process.
Obviously, in the life of a brand it is vital to make milestone “stops” along the path and reconsider strategies. Gap Inc. was changing some of the styles it offers, and had said that the new logo was part of the evolution of the brand’s line. “The natural step for us on this journey is to see how our logo—one that we’ve had for more than 20 years—should evolve. Our brand and our clothes are changing, and rethinking our logo is part of aligning with that,” wrote Gap North America President Marka Hansen on October 7, 2010, in The Huffington Post. Yet Gap’s iconic line of clothing wasn’t changing drastically—the jeans and T-shirts hadn’t been reinvented. So why the logo revolution? Why squander equity with the customer? Logos and other design features, along with mottos, taglines, and mission statements, have value. The logo was just hanging out there by itself, stranded on a desert island. Customers ended up feeling confused, not enlightened. Ultimately, a new logo or change in store appearance should say clearly that “we listened to you, watched what you were doing, saw what you wanted, and this is our response.”
Then, just a few days later, on October 11, Gap announced it would kill the new logo and posted this statement on its Facebook page: “We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback. We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowd sourcing, we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight.” In between the fracas the new logo created and the decision to pull it, Gap also tried to seduce customers into submitting their own designs for a new logo—a lame attempt at a design contest—a strategy that also failed.
Gap didn’t communicate its plan to change the logo beforehand— such changes are generally preceded by some strategic research or groundwork, and launches are usually accompanied by media coverage and advertising.
To no one’s surprise, Hansen was replaced and a corporate reshuffle, specifically in Gap’s creative team, followed. The company and its executives deserved the public spanking for this royal screw-up.
The debacle serves as a reminder about checking in with your audience. Major changes must be part of a larger narrative: a logo for a brand as large and prominent and consumer-oriented as Gap embodies a lot about a brand and its audience. How can you change the key visual connection between you and your audience and nothing else? What’s the new story that goes along with it? What did its new logo say about the “new” Gap or its new clothing? No story was ever told by Gap—what’s different other than the logo and what are we saying about it?
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