Brand Stories: Magic Leap

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Founded in 2010 by Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap is a fast-growing startup that has been shrouded in mystery since its inception. In fact, it has earned the reputation as one of the most secretive firms in the tech industry, and its headquarters are located in Southern Florida to maintain its discretion (which would be nearly impossible if it were located in Silicon Valley).

The startup evolved from a small company called “Magic Leap Studios”, which was focused on creating a graphic novel series and feature film franchise. Abovitz had hired visual effects studio Weta Workshop to develop the imagery, following their work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

However, Abovitz became frustrated that the augmented and virtual reality world he’d read about in sci-fi novels wasn’t available in real life. He aimed to make it so. In 2011, Magic Leap Studios became a corporation, releasing an augmented reality app at Comic-Con that year called Hour Blue.

How They’re Trying to Change the World

Magic Leap is working on a head-mounted virtual retinal display that has been compared to the Microsoft HoloLens. It superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects by tricking the brain into thinking that digital light signals created in the headset are in fact reality. Gizmodo said they are trying to build “a Google Glass on steroids that can seamlessly blend computer-generated graphics with the real world”.

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Forbes perfectly described the experience in relation to Pokemon Go: “VR takes you to another place. AR can make a Pikachu appear in your living room. Mixed reality keeps you where you are-and makes that Pikachu come to life.”

While this technology has outstanding potential for gaming and entertainment, Magic Leap aims to use it to revolutionize the way we work, communicate, and play.

Quick Success Led to a $4.5 Billion Valuation

Forbes estimated that Magic Leap was worth $4.5 billion, even though they have not released a product to market yet. It raised $1.4 billion from a list of impressive investors, including Google and China’s Alibaba Group.

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It earned highly publicized early contributions thanks to its overwhelming claims that the technology would “forever change the way we interact with images and information”. The prominent investors were convinced with early prototype demonstrations and technology that was still in development.

Standing Up to Big Competition

Magic Leap is not the first (or only) company to pursue mixed reality. Apple is working on an AR device, startups Meta and Atheer are working on their own headsets, and the MIT Media Lab has also constructed a 3D display using “compressed light fields”. The Microsoft HoloLens is the largest competitor and already has developer kits available. The difference, according to Magic Leap, is that Magic Leap’s breakthrough technology provides better resolution than the HoloLens, making it far superior.

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Misleading Claims Revealed

Most people who have tried Magic Leap have positive things to say. However, not all of the attention surrounding the startup has been good.

Magic Leap may have exaggerated what it was able to provide. In a recent interview, it was revealed that Magic Leap posted a misleading video demonstration of its tech. Magic Leap didn’t help things when it used YouTube videos to prove what its tech can do, using a video that was later revealed to be created by Weta Workshop.

As it stands now, the Magic Leap tech won’t outshine the Microsoft HoloLens’ tech. During a recent rare demo with The Information, the images produced by the headset were often blurrier and more jittery than Microsoft’s prototype.

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While the startup wasn’t ever planning on rushing to market, it seems as if the technology is in reality years away from completion. The fiber scanning display that was set to be Magic Leap’s breakthrough tech has also been demoted to a long-term research project. They have also promised to provide a small headset resembling glasses, but have not yet trimmed down from the bulky helmet prototype.

However, this hasn’t slowed Magic Leap, which just acquired the 3D division of Swiss computer vision company Dacuda and formed a partnership with Disney’s Lucasfilm and its ILMxLAB R&D unit to create a joint research lab at Lucasfilm’s San Francisco campus. Abovitz believes that one day, Magic Leap’s technology will replace phones, tablets, computers, and televisions.

Brand Stories: How Warby Parker Clearly Saw the Finish Line

Sometimes, overthinking is key when it comes to branding. While some companies launch as quickly as possible, others take a very deliberate approach to branding. One such example is Warby Parker.5c4190dba9c25b876e9e0a45bb4542bd

Deliberate Approach to Branding

Warby Parker was founded in 2010 by four friends at Wharton. They sell prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses online and offer a limited number of physical offices throughout the United States. The idea sprouted from the co-founders recognizing that the industry was monopolized by large firms like Luxottica, making it nearly impossible for consumers to find affordable, quality glasses.

Co-founder, David Gilboa, said, “We spent about a year and a half from when we came up with the idea to when we launched, and a huge part of that was building a brand we could believe in.” Co-founder, Neil Blumenthal, actually said that most startups underinvest in branding.

Most investors would agree that they are “more disciplined about brand than any other entrepreneur.” The founders agree that when starting out, you can’t underestimate “the importance of really defining who you are and what you stand for and having a very distinct point of view.”

They carefully explored every detail of the brand design. In fact, they explored roughly 2,000 names before settling on Warby Parker, which combined two names from Jack Kerouac’s journals (Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper). They tested the name on about 1,500 of their friends to see how they reacted to it. Blumenthal recalled that “the fact that it resonated with people sort of built in credibility.”

Even the price involved a lot of thought. They set the threshold at $100, but $99 sounded discounted and “Visually, it’s not that pretty.” Blumenthal recalled that “$95 is deliberate, visually; it’s more appealing.” While it means less revenue, he found that “You sometimes have to make tradeoffs to do something creatively and beautifully versus always just going for profits. In this case we’re trading $4, but we think that the upside is bigger.”warby-parker-bird-caseThe white and light blue branding is inspired by the blue-footed booby bird. They were also inspired by Zappos’ customer service, Apple’s focus on simplicity, Nike’s brand clarity, and Patagonia’s pro-social initiatives. enhanced-buzz-5450-1364308740-6-1WPKarlie2They’ve also had highly successful brand partnerships, with celebrities like Karlie Kloss and Ryan Gosling, as well as with productions like the Man of Steel movie.

How a Mistake Turned Into a Triumph

warby-parkerWhile the founders came up with the idea for Warby Parker in 2008, they weren’t planning on launching until March 2010. GQ contacted Warby Parker for a story that would publish in the March issue (before Warby Parker had even officially launched), so Warby Parker decided that this would be their official launch date. They later found out that the magazine would hit newsstands on February 15, so the founders realized they had to push up the launch date. The site went live on February 15 and within 48 hours, the orders came pouring in so quickly that they had to temporarily suspend the home try-on program.

In the article, GQ dubbed them “the Netflix of eyewear”, leading to a waitlist of 20,000 people. In only three weeks, the company hit its first-year sales target.

Tell a Compelling Story

Warby Parker has leaned on telling engaging stories to reach a new audience. One such story occurred in 2011, when Warby Parker found a way to participate in NY Fashion Week, even though they couldn’t afford to. They invited a number of fashion editors to a “hush mob” at the public library. There, about 30 models were reading from bright blue books, dawning the latest Warby Parker designs. Every editor that attended wrote about the event.warby-barker-1-600x587Other compelling, shareable stories include Warby Parker’s 2,000+ one-to-one video answers and April Fool’s jokes (such as launching glasses for dogs). Their social mission is also highly shareable. They donate a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair purchased. To date, they’ve donated more than a million pairs of glasses.

Trailblazing at its Finest

warby-home-try-on-600x306Most people seemed hesitant about buying glasses online. This led to Warby Parker becoming one of the first to introduce a home try-on program, where consumers can try on five frames at home, at no cost. They confirmed that people who try items are 50% likelier to buy. They were also one of the first to go direct to consumers online, rather than relying on in-person purchases. They design glasses in-house and sell only directly to consumers, which allows them to lower the cost of prescription eyewear to an affordable $95 per pair. Today, more than 50% of their traffic is driven by word-of-mouth referrals, proving that when you get the branding right in the beginning, people are sure to notice.

Brand Stories: The Evolution of Applebee’s

Applebee’s is one of the largest casual dining chains in the world, while offering a versatile dining experience setting for everything from lunch meetings to family outings.  They currently enjoy annual sales of $4.7 billion, but the road to success was often a difficult one for the chain. To that end, in 2006 the chain experienced a dramatic drop in profitability, and the management team was forced to take action.

In 2007, Applebee’s embarked on what would turn out to be a very successful brand refresh, with the new “spokesapple” at the front and center of the campaign. According to George Williams, Chief Marketing Officer of Applebee’s at the time, “the decision to use an apple as the company ‘spokesapple’ was made as a way to create advertising that could not be mistaken with pitches from the competition”

Applebee's Brand Refresh

The chain has consistently made changes to their locations, menus, and branding over the years. They have changed the logo, uniforms, restaurant interiors, and themes to reflect a more modern chain of restaurants. They are also constantly featuring new items with seasonal favorites.

Applebee’s has consistently maintained the goal of becoming a comfortable place where people can come together to meet, eat, and have fun. To push this effort and connect with a younger generation of diners, they created a “Club Applebee’s” initiative. The brand refresh strategy featured after-hours, nightclub-style entertainment from the otherwise wholesome restaurant. The new after-hours locations offer half-price appetizers, drink specials, dancing, music, and other late-night activities that patrons can take advantage of until two o’clock in the morning.

The brand has seen ups and downs over the years, but their willingness to experiment with new business models and branding initiatives – while quickly rejecting unsuccessful initiatives – has led to overall success over the years.

The restaurants have recently undergone a replacement of their previous canopies and signs.  The new exteriors include quality signage and awnings, which were carefully designed to maintain the original design, while quickly, affordably revamping the restaurant. Most locations have experienced an increase in revenue immediately following the contemporary remodels.

Applebee's Brand Refresh

As most recently reported, Applebee’s spends approximately $180 million per year on advertising campaigns. While a rebrand and new campaigns can lead to increased profits and a better customer perception, if the underlying problems are not addressed, the new branding identity will only accomplish so much. The restaurant chain took the remodel to heart and placed more emphasis on service, to further meet their patrons’ needs.

Brand Stories: PBR and the $44 Beer Bottle

PBR's Brand Repositioning

Pabst Blur Ribbon, better known to most as PBR, has served as one of the most popular beers for middle class Americans since its origin in 1844.  What was once the cheapest beer on the shelf is now a global phenomenon.

Brand Repositioning in the Early 2000s

In the early 2000s, PBR gained popularity with urban hipsters, college students, and millenials. The new fans were attracted to the minimal marketing and non-mainstream attitude. Following a nearly 20-year decline, sales suddenly rose 5%.

While most companies would have rebranded to appeal to this new audience, PBR opted to keep their branding the same in order to maintain the authenticity that attracted hipsters in the first place. Instead, they sponsored customer events and featured user-submitted photography and fan art on their website to encourage customer interaction, all without calling in the PR team.

Finding an Audience Abroad

Following the example General Motors set in 1999, PBR set out to appeal to a worldwide market and created a case study in brand repositioning.  In fact, big-name brands have been branding to the foreign market for decades. If you’ve ever taken a trip to Europe, you may find Disney comics are just as popular there as they are here. Kit-Kats and Spam are two other food brands that sell just as well abroad—if not better—than they do domestically.

Through a licensing agreement and joint venture arrangement with China Pabst Blue Ribbon, the American company has been able to successfully branch outside of the United States. PBR rebranded their once generic American product with a luxury ad campaign. What has been deemed “Blue Ribbon 1844” is selling for $44 a bottle in China. The specialty beer is considered a luxury in China and gives the perception of riches.

Brand Repositioning - The Story of PBR

The brewmaster states that the specially crafted reddish brown strong ale is in fact better than its American counterpart. “Blue Ribbon 1844” has the appearance of brandy, an updated recipe, and is aged rather uniquely, but it appears that the branding and perception is what is attracting most Chinese consumers.

PBR was once considered a working-class beer, but due to recent rebranding efforts, it has become the beer of choice for hipsters, college students, everyday Americans, and foreign enthusiasts alike.  The increase in sales led to a 10% price increase in 2009.  PBR’s success domestically and abroad has led to pricing shifts throughout the beer industry worldwide.

Pabst Blue Ribbon has proven that any business can create a successful brand identity and reposition themselves to be who they want to be, regardless of their current image. They continue to be one of the fastest-growing consumer brands in the country, with widespread influence around the world.

Brand Stories: The Rise, and Fall, and Rise… of LEGO

Lego and its Brand Strategy

LEGO began laying bricks for a successful business in 1932.  The company faced a number of challenges throughout the years, and was able to pull off one of the most incredible turnarounds in corporate history.  In the early 2000′s, the company went from the brink of bankruptcy to the most profitable toy company on the planet.

The History

The name LEGO is an abbreviation of the Danish phrase “leg godt,” meaning “play well,” and can also be loosely interpreted as “I assemble” in Latin.  In 1949, LEGO first introduced the original plastic interlocking building bricks.  Today, it offers unique plastic building blocks, kits, and sets that change with current trends.

The Fall

After building up assets over the decades, LEGO began to lose its focus as an organization, while spreading its resources too thinly.  As a result, the company nearly went bankrupt in 2004.  Facing harsh competition from Mattel and Hasbro, sales decreased 40% in only two years.  But that was just the tip of the iceberg.  As noted in an Economist article in late 2006, “[t]he logic of diversification was compelling . . . but LEGO went about it the wrong way.  It tried to become a lifestyle brand with its own lines of clothes, watches and video games.  And as it tried to attract more girls, it started to neglect its main customers, boys aged five to nine.  [According to Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of LEGO Group,] ‘we had become arrogant—we didn’t listen to customers any more.’”

The Turnaround

To restore its position in the industry, the company embarked on a long-term and very painful turnaround strategy.  Around 3,500 of the company’s 8,000 employees were laid off.  LEGO began divesting or discontinuing products that were not solely focused on their core product.  It sold four theme parks, the video game development division, and shortened the time spent in product development.  It also focused more on adult customers, who account for nearly 10% of sales.  And last but not least, the company pivoted to focus much of its business on a new revenue stream that proved to be prophetic: product licensing.

With the new strategy in place, the company quickly worked its way out of debt and became the fastest growing company in the industry. By shifting its market positioning, brand strategy and business strategy, taking advantage of licensing opportunities, and refocusing their efforts and resources on their core product, LEGO was able to restore its firm foothold with many customers that it had lost, both young and old.

 

Brand Stories: Old Spice and Its Millennial Rebrand

Old Spice Rebrand - Before and After

Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice has served as an internationally recognized men’s grooming brand for more than 70 years. Throughout the years, they have aimed to bring the best male grooming products to men of all ages, but were becoming stale with the younger generation. To catch up with the changing market, they launched one of the most successful rebrands of the decade.

Featuring new commercials, new packaging, a new site design, and a complete upheaval of their entire marketing scheme, Old Spice completed a full rebrand in an effort to attract a broader, younger customer base. From the introduction of “The Old Spice Guy” to the assortment of witty, comical commercials and must-see viral videos that began in July 2010, they garnered the attention of their target audience both on television and on social media networks.

To complete such a successful rebrand, Old Spice worked with Interbrand to determine what it would take to bring the brand into modern times. In the summer of 2011, they also teamed with advertising great Wieden + Kennedy and the creative minds at Landor  to create a campaign that would foster a strong relationship between Old Spice and their customers. They worked to build a strong online and social media presence to attract new customers and update their packaging to suit customers’ changing preferences.

The ultimate goal was to target Millennials because both older men and teenagers want to feel like they are in their 20s, so this marketing campaign appealed to more than just the Millennials. In only one short year following the rebrand, sales increased by more than 100%.

Old Spice created an interactive website and eye-catching packaging design using new colors, typography, and graphics. The more modern imagery has placed Old Spice in the running as the best male grooming products for men ranging from older gentlemen to teenage boys. They have also intensified their mobile marketing efforts because research has shown that more people are willing to accept ads via their mobile device.

This hugely successful rebrand has honored the original customers while attracting a new demographic of younger men. In fact, following the implementation of the new packaging design, Nick Patterson, Associate Director of Shopper Marketing at Procter & Gamble, stated that “Old Spice was reinvented and became one of the fastest growing brands in the category.”

Following the redesign, Old Spice has taken many other efforts to attract customers, including hiring a new marketing director and partnering with other notables and celebrities for wildly successful online and design campaigns. They have offered a noteworthy example of how branding and packaging makeovers can create significant market change.