Be With the Lions

(originally posted on Thinkers & Doers blog, 10/10)

Be With the Lions

The trick to taming a lion is to confuse it. Circus lion-tamers point the underside of chairs at their lions, giving them too many points to swipe at. Unable to decide on which leg to paw, the lion halts its attack. The trainer can then guide the lion to its happy place, typically by offering it a grand reward. Let’s call this approach “old school.”

The “new school” approach is to work WITH the lions instead of trying to tame them. The goal is to build lasting relationships with the lions. To be successful, the new-school lion “listener” needs to:

  • Study the group and discern the leadership
  • Live within the group to fully understand the nuances
  • Offer safe havens where the group can visit, without prodding or corralling

The Gap has learned that the old school no longer works.

The new logo designed by Laird & Partners, which I actually liked, was not sabotaged by its poor reception, even though it appears that way through the data. At the time of my writing this, there are tons of digital conversations about the logo. We did a quick search using Sysomos and found:

  • 1,457 blog post mentions
  • 51,027 tweet mentions
  • 364 traditional media mentions

Most of these mentions are negative, but show the fanatical support the Gap has for its brand. Looking at the Gap’s Facebook page there are over 1,000 more comments from eager brand fans seeking to add their voices to the dialogue. (Harness this power!)


The new Gap logo failed because it lacked a full “Social/Digital” plan to life-cycle the launch within the new-school frame. Our social era puts everything out in the open, transparently. These lions, the Gap’s audiences, are out in the open too. They looked at the old bait and saw past it, into the savannah, and knew there was better prey amidst the grasses. Instead of fully understanding this relationship the Gap initially panicked (which you don’t want to do around lions), and offered to “crowd-source” the logo. It’s impossible to tame lions in the wild, but taming lions is no longer the goal. That’s old school; it’s all new school now.

The Gap can still salvage this campaign, even flourish from the results. Social is a process, not a road marker; it’s evolving and is open to ongoing participation. Here are a few symptoms, solutions, and opportunities.

  • Own your brand’s digital footprint. When the Gap chose to announce the new logo on HuffPo they relinquished the power of their brand to HuffPo. I still think it’s a good strategy to engage with bloggers and media outlets, but there were earlier opportunities to reach out to thought leaders and highly influential digital trailblazers who could have helped amplify the goals while keeping the Gap’s brand strong. I expect the Gap to have had a well-maintained blog in place, potentially a virtual newsroom where they can offer bloggers, fans and fanatics useful bits of digital gems to foster conversation. Sure, a Facebook landing page is a good idea, but what’s missing is the ongoing conversations with their audience. Another solution could be a Gap-branded digital “home,” a mini-site to land on, to linger at, a place to share ideas with each other. The Twitter account is also too broadcast-heavy with low engagement. Overall, the Gap needs to invest more time speaking WITH their audience in order to own their digital footprint.
  • Ramp up slowly, in the open. The Gap could have integrated their audience into the new logo rollout. They could have made the process transparent, open to dialogue, and responsive to feedback. This is not “crowd-sourcing,” it’s engagement. Define the hierarchy of your audience, and pinpoint the strategy to include the grassroots leadership. Then allow the news to grow organically, monitor the response, and then remain in tune and agile enough to roll and react as needed. It’s hard to catch a big wave; start with a smaller wave and build up your response as the wave builds. It’s even harder to herd cats, especially big cats like lions. Instead, walk with them, see where they go, and build a course of action once you can define the trajectory. And above all, don’t surprise them.

I hope the Gap doesn’t batten down the hatches and go reclusive. I think they need to do the opposite, now, and with vigor. They need to be with the lions. They are ripe to harness the power of social.