The failure of the Gap’s new “branding” exercise isn’t the only recent demonstration of how even big organisations still don’t “get” brand #101, but its a good one.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this story, Gap invested big money in a new logo, that their customers don’t like and in one of the purest forms of customer power I’ve seen, they responded by forcing the retailer to put their plans into quick reverse, abandoning the new logo and all the cash and energy they had invested in it’s development .

This is failure on a grand scale.  Apart from the fact that their customers clearly have a better appreciation of design than the Gap execs (The new logo design is pretty shoddy), on the most basic level its a major cash hit and therefore just plain inefficient, which we all know is simply not an option in today’s competitive environment.  These days you simply don’t get to score below 100% efficiency and survive for long.  Then its plain bad judgement, that can only be the result of a tragic customer disconnect – How could they not know what their customers would think of the design or how they would react?  Even I could see that one coming and I haven’t been in a Gap store for at least ten years!  The thing that worries me most though is that a business like Gap, with its heritage (Haight-Ashbury, the Hippie movement, record albums, jeans and all that) could fail to recognise that their brand,  undoubtedly an icon (until now), is a product of and belongs to their customers.

Nobody could deny that the old Gap blue square and serif font was due for an update, but it was exactly what a logo should be – a reflection of the business, which could definitely benefit from a face-lift .  However, you simply don’t change anything about a brand like this without involving your brand community (customers, employees, partners etc.) in the process.  If you are daft enough to try, the very least you would do is research the result, but the really, really criminal thing about this is that whoever drove and approved this change clearly didn’t understand that a logo is a product of the brand, not the other way around.  Gap may feel the need to be current, but having a logo that meets that criteria doesn’t do it.  Newsflash – If you want people to think you are current and relevant, you have BE current and relevant.  The logo design comes later.  I can only guess that like a lot of other businesses, Gap considered up-dating the logo was a cheaper option than actually addressing the issue.  However, it might just turn out to have been a dam-site more costly in the long run.

What Gap have attempted is the retail equivalent of a comb-over.  But you can’t kid a customer and to try to do so can only have one outcome – loss of customer trust and your own credibility and integrity.

The cost of Gap’s error won’t just add up to the bill for the design work and signage, it will undoubtedly cost them customers who are right now questioning their relationship with the brand (brandship).  This represents a serious plight.  You don’t easily win back customers who feel betrayed.  Its certainly many times harder and more costly than acquiring customers in the first place.

My guess is that Gap lost their brand community a while back.  They failed to maintain the brandships their business was built on.  Remember, Gap was a ground breaker in retail brand building, so this is all the more sad.  A brand development initiative could have been just the ticket to re-engage its community.

Michael Weaver
October 15, 2010

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