• June 1, 2014
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The Troubles of Trading on Name Recognition

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This month, I want to talk about brands that bounce around, that were born in one place but move to another, changing hands and facets along the way. Businesses get acquired by other businesses and must be recrafted to fit the new owner's needs. A dead product is brought back. A restaurant opens under new management. That sort of thing.

It's possible that I have touched on this subject before, but I can't remember. This issue marks my ninth consecutive year of occupancy on the back page of CRM, and while I'm grateful for that time, I can't be expected to recall everything I've written about since then. Heck (or a stronger expletive), I tend to forget what I've written by the time it's edited.

Anyhow, on to the topic and its inspiration. Remember the public broadcasting staple Cosmos, with Carl Sagan, which ran from 1978 to 1979? It was a mind-expanding vision of the universe, from the infinite to the infinitesimal, the vast to the very, very tiny. It changed the way we think about so many things, and revitalized science education worldwide.

Now it's back, and it's on Fox.

This is not going to be a screed against that network, or a rant about the commercialization and/or trivialization of intellectual content. If anything, I want to congratulate Fox for reviving the show, and for putting a bunch of talent behind it. The host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, mirrors Sagan in that he is an eminent astronomer and educator with an engaging personality. The producers include Seth MacFarlane (best known for shows like Family Guy) and Brannon Braga (of the Star Trek family). There's a lot of money there, too, and thus a lot riding on the show's success. If the revival fails to connect with viewers, it will quickly go the way of every other show on Fox that I have ever liked. Sorry. I had to get that in there.

The new Cosmos is not a reimagining or reboot. It's a continuation and an update. Science has come a long way since people were wearing bell-bottoms unironically; so has broadcasting. The graphics and special effects will be outstanding, and animated segments will illustrate things that couldn't be conveyed by the late Dr. Sagan's sonorous, soporific voice.

In the CRM industry, most of the examples of continuation and updating that spring to mind are cases where Oracle acquired another vendor and kept the brand name. Siebel, PeopleSoft, RightNow...the list goes on. Far from bashing Oracle (as I've been known to do, though all in fun), I think Ellison & Co. have done a remarkable job of keeping those brands alive while bringing them under the big red umbrella. Much of that is due to the customers who came over with the software—PeopleSoft users are famously loyal to that line. RightNow is a relative newcomer to the family, but it's still impressive.

So many times, though, we've seen media properties cycled through endless reboots and new angles, diluting the brand. It's especially dangerous where fans are involved, because the more they like something, the angrier they get when you mess with it.

Let's say you're the latest studio to acquire the rights to produce a movie about Superman. You want to put your own stamp on it, but you can't stray far from what's come before, because that history is part of what makes the brand so powerful (more powerful than a locomotive, I hear). Most studios would just go back to the beginning, retelling the character's origin.

The problem is, everybody—everybody—knows the origin of Superman. People of a certain age know the intro to The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves better than they know our national anthem. In trying to make the story yours while honoring the fans, you walk in ancient footsteps. As soon as somebody's brave enough to tell a new story without stealing from the past, they will truly own the brand.

It's the same for us in CRM. There are few green field opportunities today. If most of your customers know what CRM is, don't tell them again. Make your pitch based on what you can do, and what you can do better than anybody else. You're not selling a history lesson. You're selling tools to solve problems. Tell a new story.

Marshall Lager is the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting, dedicated to finding the best way to move businesses and customers forward. Engage him at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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