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One could understand the temptation to adopt such a strategy in the face of disaster, but Instagram, Pepsi Co, and Coke were hardly staring into the abyss. Lafley serves on the board of Snap Inc.) The answer, we believe, is rooted in some serious misperceptions about the nature of competitive advantage.(It’s worth noting that Snapchat, whose market share among young users is now particularly strong, has assiduously stuck to its familiar ghost icon. Much new thinking in strategy argues that the fast pace of change in modern business (perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the app world) means no competitive advantage is sustainable, so companies must continually update their business models, strategies, and communications to respond in real time to the explosion of choice that ever more sophisticated consumers now face.Back in 1946, Procter & Gamble gave away a box of Tide with every washing machine sold in America. When P&G introduced Febreze, consumers liked it but didn’t use it much.The problem, it turned out, was that the product came in what looked like a glass-cleaner bottle, so users kept it under the sink.“But it all begins with making your brand a habit.” Intuit chairman Scott Cook attributes much of his company’s success to an early decision to design Quicken, Intuit’s personal-finance software, to look and operate like a checkbook.As Cook puts it, Quicken is “a product that lets people hold on to their habits.” Late in the spring of 2016 Facebook’s category-leading photo-sharing application, Instagram, abandoned its original icon, a retro camera familiar to the app’s 400- million-plus users, and replaced it with a flat modernist design that, as the head of design explained, “suggests a camera.” At a time when Instagram was under a growing threat from its rival Snapchat, he offered this rationale for the switch: The icon “was beginning to feel…not reflective of the community, and we thought we could make it better.” The assessment of ’s article “Logo Change No One Wanted Just Came to Instagram,” the magazine’s panel of designers called the new icon “honestly horrible,” “so ugly,” and “trash,” and summarized the change thus: “Instagram spent YEARS building up visual brand equity with its existing logo, training users where to tap, and now instead of iterating on that, it’s flushing it all down the toilet for the homescreen equivalent of a Starburst.” It’s too soon to tell whether the design change will actually have commercial consequences for Instagram, but this is not the first time a company has experienced such a reaction to a rebranding or a relaunch.
A clever ad may win awards, but if its message is too complex, it will backfire.
Why do companies routinely succumb to the lure of rebranding? They choose the leading product in the market primarily because that is the easiest thing to do.
Research suggests that what makes competitive advantage truly sustainable is helping consumers avoid having to make a choice.
That’s an edgy thought, to be sure; but a lot of evidence contradicts it.
Consider Southwest Airlines, Vanguard, and IKEA, all featured in Michael Porter’s classic 1996 HBR article “What Is Strategy?
When the company redesigned the bottle so that customers would keep it in a more visible spot, they ended up using it more often. Efforts to “relaunch” brands can lead people to break their habits.