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The re-positioning of two iconic 90s brands

October 21, 2004

Saturn and Nokia, two iconic 90s brands are trying to get back on their feet after turbulent times by repositioning their brands.These cases provide an interesting counterpoint to each other because of the difference in the way that they built their brands and the conclusions they have both now come to.

Saturn launched in 1989 with a radically new concept, focusing on the end-user and the buying process. For Detroit, this direction was revolutionary and the enthusiasm created by the brand translated into the most successful launch in automotive history. However, despite the strong brand promise, the cars themselves never lived up to the billing. The product let the brand down and without product; there can be no brand.

http://www.welovesaturns.com/history.html

Nokia rose to prominence in the opposite way; its success was entirely product and design led. Producing better designed, more ergonomic and ultimately more desirable phones than their competitors. Nokia were smart enough to realize that the mobile phone was a fashion accessory and played to that. However, Nokia was so busy concentrating on rapid-fire product development, that it failed to communicate what the brand stood for.

http://www.nokia.com/nokia/0,8764,1128,00.html

Now competitive pressures are forcing both brands to re-group and look to the future. GM is looking to manage Saturn within its vast brand portfolio. There is talk of the brand replacing Oldsmobile in the line up, positioning it as more upscale than Pontiac or Chevrolet. GM’s head of product design, Robert Lutz realized that product is key. He has ordered a number of GM design groups across the globe to work on new models; including the European Opel team. The new models will launch at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2005.

http://www.autoweek.com/news.cms?newsId=101044

It will be very interesting to see exactly how Saturn, who’s original model and brand promise was so compelling and differentiated, can fuse and update its brand positioning to go after a different target with exciting new products.

Nokia operates in such a dynamic category, its completely re-examining its business model to work out exactly where it fits. Handsets, once the engines of its growth are no longer the profitable tools they once were. The category is incredibly competitive; with Korean companies; Samsung, LG and Kyocrea all growing share and Chinese competitors waiting on the sidelines. The wireless carriers have become more demanding in what they require from handsets and the operating systems are all starting to converge, making it harder to differentiate. Nokia is looking to go deeper into the engineering side of the business and to try and compete in new wireless categories like gaming. As the brand moves in different directions, its going to be harder than ever to communicate what Nokia stands for, especially without the legacy of a clear positioning.

http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/oct2004/tc20041020_4618_tc119.htm

These cases show the often forgotten truth that product is the key to marketing and business success, but brand also plays such a critical role. It can be a foundation to rest on when times are tough or a platform to build from when re-tooling.

With a business environment today that’s so dynamic; where re-invention is needed 24/7, having a brand promise, mission and beliefs can help to guide. For the 21st century brand, that positioning might need to be broader than ever before, or at least have the potential for multiple possibilities.

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