Pivoting Your Brand Positioning – SeaWorld

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Last week SeaWorld announced that they would be phasing out the traditional Orca shows that has been their bread and butter and stop it’s killer whale breading program. For over 51 years, SeaWorld had used the Orca as it’s brand icon and its logo design and build up the entire business on the back of killer whale shows. With heavy pressure from animal rights activists and the release of the file Blackfish in 2013 which brought to light the lives of Orcas in captivity, SeaWorld has finally decided to pivot its brand positioning strategy.

I will not go into details of why SeaWorld is being forced to change its positioning. You can find further reading here and here.

[tweet_box]Brand Positioning is all about the emotional connection that you can form with your ideal customers.[/tweet_box]

You can read more about how brand positioning enables success for businesses in this article.

For SeaWorld, the connection was the cute yet awe inspiring image of the Orca, killer whale – a magnificent creature belonging to the oceanic dolphin family. SeaWorld’s core values and purpose are to protect animals in the wild and inspire their guests to join them in this critical mission. This may have been true at the beginning and helped position SeaWorld as an educational entertainment oriented theme park. In fact SeaWorld may be responsible for making the hitherto feared Orca a much loved animal around the world because people saw these animals up close and learnt more about them.

“When SeaWorld opened its doors more than 50 years ago, killer whales were feared and even hunted. Now, they are among the most beloved marine mammals on the planet thanks, in part, to the inspirational encounters we’ve provided to more than 400 million guests.”, says SeaWorld’s website in connection with their pivoting and the story they are trying to tell.

But that positioning had to change. Once people learnt about how social and how intelligent these animals were, they felt more and more inclined not to visit the shows where these powerful creatures were doing circus tricks and were kept in small enclosed pools for most of their long lives. On top of that, animal activists and the Blackfish documentary raised awareness of the torture these animals go through.

So, Seaworld finally decides to throw in the towel and in a letter to the LA Times, Joel Manby, the president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, announced the phasing out of the traditional shows and stopping the Orca breeding program.

“By offering our guests enjoyable, memorable and educational experiences, SeaWorld will continue to create the constituency for conservation, just as we helped to inspire the changing attitudes that, in turn, inspired our company’s changing policies.”, says Joel as part of the new story and positioning.

The importance of brand positioning.

By ditching the iconic Orca brand, how is SeaWorld going to create the same kind of emotional connection with its target audience which translates into millions of dollars in revenue? SeaWorld looks like they want to position themselves as an educational organization. A place people can come to lean about marine life. But is that a good positioning strategy? People go to SeaWorld seeking thrills. They want to see large killer whales perform tricks and entertain them. Would they be that entertained or thrilled by going to an aquarium?

Any organization that faces a crisis to its brand or its industry is faced with the daunting prospect of pivoting its positioning or succumb to the threats and die. This has happened to and is happening to many brands in the accident claims industry in the UK, certain insurance sectors, the fast food industry, sugary food and drink sectors and so on. Brands have had to reinvent themselves, pivot and tell a different story to survive.

Walking away from a brand icon that carried SeaWorld for so many decades would be difficult. Telling the right story is important. I am not sure the educational angle is such a good idea. I am sure the great marketing and branding minds that work with SeaWorld have explored all options before going down this route and only time can tell if this is going to be a success. Of course there are those that feel that this new positioning is just a sham and that SeaWorld will continue to do what it has been doing – but just in a different way and with different messages.

[tweet_box]Brand positioning is a critical element to any business and it pays to spend time and effort in building a strong brand.[/tweet_box]

It not only allows a brand to raise above the competition and dominate a market but it also creates an opportunity to tell the right story. Pivoting a brand positioning can be very difficult and that is why it is very important to craft the positioning carefully with careful thought of the future and any potential changes to the market segment or consumer behaviour. Any such future threats need to be considered carefully and if possible pivots need to be baked into the brand strategy.