Business musings

Articles and thoughts about Facebook

For those of you who use Facebook and Twitter, you’re likely to have come across the story of Lily Robinson, Sainsbury’s and why Tiger Bread should really be called Giraffe Bread. In case this internet sensation happens to have passed you by, allow me to tell you the story.

How a bread changed its spots

Photos of the letter exchange between Lily Robinson and Sainsbury's. The photo on the left shows Lily's letter with her biro drawings at the bottom. The photo on the left shows a child's hand (Lily's) holding a letter from Chris King at Sainsbury's flat against a table.

In May 2011, Lily Robinson (age 3 ½) wrote to Sainsbury’s to ask them:

Why is tiger bread c\alled tiger bread? It should be c\alled giraffe bread.

Chris King (who at the time worked in Sainsbury’s customer service team) replied to Lily saying:

Thanks so much for your letter. I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it?

It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a looong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.

I really liked reading your letter so I thought I would send you a little present. I’ve put a £3 gift card in with this letter, if you ask your mum or dad to take you to Sainsbury’s you could use it to buy some of your own tiger bread (and maybe if mum and dad say its OK you can get some sweeties too!).

Chris King (age 27 & 1/3)

I first came across this exchange via a post on Facebook last week and it certainly made me smile! Personally, I’m a big fan of Sainsbury’s anyway but this only added to my delight. And I am certainly not alone!

The letters first appeared online in June of last year when Lucy Robinson (Lily’s mum) posted to her blog Lily’s letter followed by Sainsbury’s response. The letters quickly went viral both last year and again this month. Bloggers have written about them; the photos have been shared on Facebook literally tens of thousands of times; the topic has trended on Twitter; Sainsbury’s say that “phone calls from customers mentioned the exchange and commended us for this great piece of customer service”; and BBC News, Huffington Post UK, The Sun and This is Money have all run articles about the story. This simple exchange has certainly made a big impact. To such an extent that Sainsbury’s have today announced that they are renaming their Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread and will be seeing how it goes.

Screen capture of a tweet by @sainsburys. The tweet reads, "We're renaming #tigerbread to #giraffebread thanks to Lily Robinson. RT if you'll be looking for it instore http://bit.ly/zsDAlz"

A tiger story of my very own

Reading Lily’s story reminded me of one of my own childhood experiences.

I’m sure many of you know and love Kellogg’s Frosties and Tony the Tiger. One of the promotions Kellogg’s ran when I was a child featured a set of four Tony the Tiger water games. By collecting tokens from Kellogg’s packs, you could send off for a small plastic game that you filled with water. To play the game, you pumped buttons at the bottom that caused either small plastic rings or balls to rise through the water, hopefully landing on hooks or in holes that were your targets.

I diligently collected tokens for such a game and sent them off, receiving one of the four games shortly after. So excited was I by this gift that I wrote a letter to Tony the Tiger thanking him for my present. In what was to me a completely surprising twist of events, I then received another parcel with a letter from Kellogg’s saying how pleased they were to hear from me and, as a show of their appreciation, here were the complete set of four games just for me.

Much like Chris King’s response to Lily’s letter, this was such a simple act on Kellogg’s behalf but it is something that has made a big difference. As a child, I was thrilled to receive the games and Tony the Tiger seemed like the kindest tiger in the world. With age came the realisation that it was in fact Kellogg’s who had been thoughtful and generous but the story has stuck. Kellogg’s actions had such an impact on me that this is a story I continue to re-tell more than 20 years later (just ask Matt!).

When Smarties failed to have the answer

In contrast, I read an article last week featuring Lily Robinson’s story in which the author said:

When I mentioned this story to my wife (@Jilltovey) she told me about the time when she, aged 8 or 9, wrote to Smarties to ask them why they had the answer and was sent a curt reply telling her it was “just a marketing slogan”.

Again, the story has lasted.

Simple acts of kindness lead to customer delight

I’m sure we all have our own stories of great customer experience and times when brands have let us down. What has struck me reading about Lily’s story and being reminded of my own however, is how simple the acts are that make a lasting impact. It would be easy to dismiss a child’s letter or to send a stock response (just as Smarties did) but by taking a little time to respond to the child in a way they relate to, Sainsbury’s and Kellogg’s have both not only made two children (and their parents) very happy but have also created lasting memories and stories to tell for years to come. Isn’t this how we should be treating all our customers, both young and old? Reaching out to them where they are and delighting them in every interaction we have?

Given the recent backtrack by Gap over their new logo, it would seem that Twitter, Facebook and social media have won a victory for the people.

New and old Gap logos

But, is it really a victory or is the feedback from the online community just noisy resistance to change?

Gap obviously felt that the people had a point and promptly withdrew their new branding, apologised and went back to the old logo with immediate effect, “[bringing] it back across all channels”.

On the one hand…

Given that Gap must have invested significantly in designing the new logo, getting feedback and re-branding (all of which has presumably now been binned), why did they not stick to their guns and let the noise pass?

Whilst a wealth of opinion was undoubtedly expressed online with more than 2,000 comments on Gap’s Facebook page, such a figure must reflect only a small proportion of those who actually shop at Gap and it can take time for people to come to terms with anything significantly new.

If Steve Jobs was prone to changing his mind when the crowd gets noisy and had he read posts written about the iPad before it was launched, we may well not have the iPad now.

On the other hand…

Gap’s change of mind may be a closely averted PR disaster and proof that listening to your customers is vital to ensure that customers join you on your journey of brand development.

Had Gap gathered more consumer feedback during the logo design process, it may have become clear that the public strongly associated with the blue square; so strongly in fact that the logo seems to be the square and many expressed opinion that the square shouldn’t be relegated to second place behind the name.

If Gap had pushed ahead and ignored the sentiment of the crowds it is possible that they may have ended up in a scenario similar to that of Coca-Cola and new Coke, with an embarrassing brand re-introduction.

So the answer is…?

That’s a good question! Personally, I can see the intention behind the new logo and understand how Gap is looking to bring a fresh, clean, modern take on their previous logo. However, I can also see that people so strongly associate Gap with the blue square that relegating the square to such an extent was likely to produce strong emotions – Gap not only got a new logo, it lost its ‘Gap-ness’.

At the same time, branding is often very personal and subject to personal taste -  it can be difficult to be impartial or objectively ‘right’. Presumably Gap management know where they want to take the brand and what brand image Gap needs to reflect. Ultimately, the management must decide the brand direction for Gap whilst listening to their customers as best they can. Unfortunately, it is not possible to design a brand by committee and no matter how hard you try, you will never keep everyone 100% happy.

It will be interesting to continue to watch what the management decides to do as they move forwards (once they’ve finished licking their wounds!): “There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way” (Marka Hansen, President of Gap Brand, North America).