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Case Analysis: Cart Before Horse

Farm-o-maid is a classic case of acquiring a business and rushing to change the first thing you could change most easily. You acquire a business and have a vision to make it bigger and better

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Farm-o-maid is a classic case of acquiring a business and rushing to change the first thing you could change most easily. You acquire a business and have a vision to make it bigger and better.

So, the first thing you start with is change the brand identity and logo. It is the easiest thing to do. After all, what is a brand logo, most people would think? Just colour and fonts? And it seems the easiest way to tell the world that things are changing. Right intent but perhaps wrong method.

This is like a situation where a person lands up in China and wants to be a successful Chinese. So, he changes his appearance to look like a Chinese. But does that make him a real Chinese and succeed in China? Only dressing up will not make him a Chinese unless he learns to speak, eat and behave like Chinese. A brand
is just like a person; dressing it up often doesn’t change it in reality.

This brings us to some key questions here: What is a brand? What role does a logo play in the brand? What must not be done while changing the brand logo and identity?

A brand is sum total of perceptions that a consumer carries in his head about a brand – positive or negative, mostly a sum of both. A brand is neither a positioning statement alone, nor a proposition, nor its logo, nor the colours, not even communication that a brand owner projects to consumers. All those are the ‘intended brand’ from the owner but the real brand is what a consumer processes in his head and takes out of all that the brand says and does. Therefore, the brand is owned by the consumer in his mind and not the financial or legal owner – whether old or new. The financial owners, marketing people are mere custodians of the brand.

So, if a change has to be brought in brand’s direction, the owner’s permission should be sought. Isn’t it? And the owner is the consumer. And the consumer is where the starting point should be to bring changes in the brand, not the legal or financial owner. The consumer should be asked what changes can be brought in the brand. A well-meaning intention or just the financial owner’s gut feel of the brand should not be the reason for change in isolation. The consumer perspective is a must and the first ingredient in the decision to bring changes to the brand.

Consumers should be asked in detail about what he thinks of the brand – its proposition, actual delivery, store layout, service, loyalty programmes, communication, logo and derive from it its real positioning, personality and values. On the other side, one should also assess how credible are the brand claims; what supports the brand claims and what takes away from the brand claims. Therefore, a proper brand equity study must be carried out to map these perceptions, personality and values – core, supporter, detractor and absentee values. Only after knowing all this, one can decide what types of changes are appropriate for the brand, where and how they can be made. Including and importantly, for logos.

A brand logo is a symbol and visible manifestation of what brand stands for; it is the outside of a brand. The inside of a brand is what consumer associate with the brand – its offering, deliveries, personality, values, believability. And a brand logo is one of the many marketing elements that brand custodians can play with to alter the brand for the consumers. Ideally, a logo represents using colour, font and design elements the brand’s personality and values and is intrinsically linked to its proposition. A logo through its colour and design elements works at a subconscious level with the consumer mind in reinforcing the brand proposition, personality and values; a logo adds intangible emotional aspects to the brand.

So, when a logo is not in line with the brand proposition and personality, it jars with consumers and the brand doesn’t build up towards a loved and iconic brand. Therefore, the starting point in changing the brand should be from the inside – offering, personality and brand values; in Farm-O-Maid’s case, its merchandise, store layout, checkout process, staff behaviour, loyalty programmes. Only after, these elements have been changed in line with the brand’s future vision; a proper brief should be created for the agency for logo change. The inside of a brand should be altered before changing its outside appearance – logo and /or packaging. Just like the man who wants to be a real Chinese has to first learn how to eat, speak, think and behave like a Chinese before just dressing up like one.

And, just trying to make the brand look young and modern is most common mistake brand owners make – like Vinayak Morro. And it is often believed that the logo change will do the trick. Just dressing up like a teenager will not necessarily make a middle aged person young.

Any logo change should be preceded by two research studies: a study of consumer across touch points and proper brand equity study research. A consumer touch-point study for a retail brand like Farm-O-Maid will tell which of the touch points/brand elements are more important to consumers and how does Farm-O-Maid fare on each of these. These touch points are advertising, digital – website, app, call center, store signage, store location, store access, store layout, store merchandise, store lighting, store checkout and staff, loyalty programmes, complaints handling, etc. After this, Farm-O-Maid can decide where it needs to change in line with the new owner’s vision. We do not see any of this knowledge evident in this case with the Farm-O-Maid team. Everyone is trying to second guess the new owner Vinayak Morro and no one is aware of the big picture. So, a proper brief for the logo change is absent. And the agency is like a loose cannon.

The Farm-O-Maid team has some idea about the brand strength but not about its weaknesses. Here, a proper brand equity study is in order outlining the brand associations from all touch points, personality and values. Only if the marketing team knows the core, supporter, detractor and absentee values of the brand, they will be able to decide what to change and what not to change and guide in crafting a sharp brief to the agency. This study will also outline the logo semiotics and which element of logo means what to consumers.

Two important aspects that are missing from consideration here in this case study are consumer trends and the competitive context. What are consumer preferences in the store formats and merchandise selection? What are their likes and dislikes about store layouts, service levels, communication? Where does Farm-O-Maid brand stands versus other retail brands on offering, deliveries, personality and values. What are the stores formats for competitive brands versus Farm-O-Maid? What are the weak points of Farm-O-Maid versus competitive brands? What is business performance of Farm-O-Maid versus others? Brand and its logo doesn’t exist in a vacuum and they exist to serve the business objectives and that has to be brought on the table for consideration before jumping on the logo change.

One key difference between product brands and service (retail, airlines, telecom, hotels) brands is that in case of product brands, the delivery of brand is controllable through managing product quality, manufacturing, supply chain, communication etc. But in case of retail brands, an important part of brand delivery is the staff / people of the organisation as their behaviour with the consumers/customers determine the brand experience and brand perceptions. Therefore, employees of service brand organisations are an important stakeholder of brand and must be taken into consideration while changing the brand. In context of a retail brand like Farm-O-Maid, the brand equity study must also be done with internal employees of Farm-O-Maid covering important touch-points.

As important as redesigning the logo through the agency, it is equally important to take employees view on board and later, do an aggressive internal brand launch and communication with employees before launching it externally with consumers. If employees of Farm-O-Maid are wedded to the current brand proposition of ‘Jain’ pure, homemade produce along with its legacy logo, they will display passive resistance to the change and the logo / brand change, however well-intentioned will not reach consumers of Farm-O-Maid. However, if Farm-O-Maid takes into account employees views and aligns the change with them via extensive internal communication programme across all stores, then, the same employees will support the brand change and even, alter / up-grade their service levels so as to deliver the change required by new brand. Here, it is necessary for Vinayak Morro to reach out to Farm-O-Maid employees and understand their thoughts and feelings on the brand rather than shoot through the agency.

Farm-O-Maid is a case of putting cart before the horse. The brand must change in its construct first before altering its identity and logo.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Vivek Sharma.

The writer is Chief Marketing Officer, Pidilite Industries.

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