Sunday, March 8, 2009

Reframing the Conversation

Every brand has a context – a frame of reference within which it operates. Often, the frame of reference is the category or industry. It may seem fixed – for years, Coke = soft drink, Visa = credit card. However, the frame of reference is actually a dynamic dimension of brand management and a core component of positioning.

Today, you could argue Coke is trying to be seen as a refreshment, and Visa, a payment solution. The frame of reference helps define a brand’s competitive set, and telegraphs something about where the brand is headed. I recently came across two brands I think have done a nice job redefining their frame of reference, for themselves and their industry.

Wag Hotels: If you have a dog or cat and ever travel without it, you’ve faced the need to have it cared for while you’re gone. The industry formerly known as “pet boarding” or “kennel” has gotten a makeover. It could be known as “pet hotels & spas” now, and Wag Hotels, is its poster child. Wag is the first five-star experience for pets and their owners. Cageless care, a la carte services including nighttime strolls and peanut butter kongs, and training are among this new category’s distinctive features.

JimmyJane: At a lunch meeting this week, I was reminded of a brand that has been at work changing its frame of reference, moving from one that has questionable connotations to one that is more, um, respectable. While boomer prudes (including me?) may blush, millennial women among others apparently have no qualms talking about their Jimmyjanes. The company sees itself as a “lifestyle brand that joins the ephemera of sexiness with the substance of design.” The frame of reference? The old category, “Sex Toys,” seems have given way to “Bedroom Aids.” Nice upgrade.

Based on its recent ads, I’m betting that KY Jelly is also in the “Bedroom Aids” category. Much better than “Personal Lubricants,” the frame of reference for an earlier generation that ironically preferred clinical, impersonal language for this very personal set of products.

With President Obama reframing the healthcare debate from a moral requirement to an economic one, reframing is alive and well, and all around us!

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