Niche is nice, iconic is better
Set a brand path toward heaven
Monday, 1 July, 2002
When filmmaker Milos Forman shouted “Cut!” for the last time on the set of
One FlewOver the Cuckoo’s Nest
, no one could have guessed its impact. For one thing, the movielaunched the careers of Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd. It is alsonow 11th in the Internet Movie Database’s “250 best films of all time” list and 20th in theAmerican Film Institute’s “100 greatest American films” list. It spawned imitations,forced a critical review of psychological treatment and is a byword for what we fearabout institutions and insanity. Oh, and it has grossed $US70 million in video rentals sofar.
It’s an icon.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have just a little of that for your brand? According to US marketing consultancyHarvest Communications, you can. In a short but pithy study into how
and the grunge musicphenomenon (Nirvana et al) became cultural icons, Harvest thinks it has a model for tracking a brand’sprogress. It breaks brands into four market segments: niche, cult, mass and iconic. Harley Davidson hasmoved from being just one niche motorcycle brand, through a cultish biker phase, to become an icon of power and adventure. IBM, once in the niche market of business machines, became a mass market PC-maker and is now an icon of American IT success. Try it on a local brand. The Warehouse, once a nicheemporium, is now a mass-market brand that’s got potential to represent something iconic in the mind of New Zealanders. Team New Zealand has quickly moved from a niche brand with clever rigging, to a cultbrand with a dedicated following, to a national icon and modern pioneer.The benefits of landing your brand in that upper-right quadrant (see left)
are a little like owning the rights toNirvana’s music: huge. Iconic brands, like their cultural cousins, evoke the sort of loyalty, passion and long-standing awareness that ensure long-term financial security. Because icons last forever, right?
Well, actually, they don’t. That’s where the brand path idea reveals its limitations. Plenty of so-calledbusiness icons have been tossed aside. IBM has come close to following ICL, Burroughs and maybeCompaq into obscurity. Locally, think Ansett, Fletcher Challenge and Chase. The brand path is a useful toolfor tracking a brand’s history; it might even sketch out your hopes and dreams. But the here and now of brand development is in the grubby details of day-to-day management, product design, customer service andsales expertise.
Before even contemplating your glorious future as owner of an icon, ask yourself this: do you have theability to sustain your brand (and read “business” for brand) through to iconic status? The majority don’t —