Does FedEx Still Absolutely, Positively Mean Fast?
May 7, 2009 ‐ 3 comments
For over 35 years, Federal Express (NYSE: FDX) has relentlessly delivered the most time-sensitive documents and parcels throughout the world. FedEx famously built its brand around a singular idea: by coming through when something "absolutely, positively has to be there overnight" (an immortal line first deployed in 1979) as dramatized by John Moschitta, Jr. speaking at 450 words a minute in this 1982 television spot:
The earlier "Pass it on" FedEx commercial was even more explicit about the need for speed, featuring a package with the admonition, "If this package doesn't arrive in Peoria tomorrow, it'll be your job."
Over the years, FedEx naturally expanded its shipping operations from urgent overnight delivery to shipping packages and parcels to less than truckload to full truckload freight to FedEx Ground.
Then in February 2004, FedEx took a major step beyond logistics when it acquired print and copy shop Kinko's for $2.4 billion. Last year, FedEx spent nearly $700 million to rebrand the 1,900 FedEx Kinko's "FedEx Office."
But with FedEx now standing for so many different services in addition to overnight delivery, the consolidation may be fracturing the core FedEx brand promise to the point of fracture. An example: the other day, a member of the old guard here at BrandCulture HQ was out of the office and enlisted the aid of a colleague to ship some urgently needed documents. A frenzy of coordinated activity ensued, with electronically circulated drafts edited, finalized, packaged, labeled and dispatched by the early evening. But instead of arriving at their destinations the next morning, the FedEx envelopes greeted the dawn in the same courier bin where they had been deposited after the FedEx pickup the previous afternoon.
Our old guard member never explicitly said "these documents absolutely, positively need to be there overnight," but instead thought that "these need to go out by FedEx" meant the same thing. Back at HQ, the co-worker (who wasn't even alive when the spot above aired, let alone in 1971 when FedEx started its overnight delivery service) simply didn't realize that there was a need to get the package out that day. Apparently lost in intergenerational translation as FedEx has expanded its brand significance is the focus on speed; the FedEx brand is no longer inextricably interwoven with "extremely urgent," but spans the value proposition of "Make it, Print it, Pack it, Ship it" -- all valuable offerings to have under one roof, but no one of them terribly imperative.
FedEx is without question one of the great companies and among the most valuable brands the world. It is perennially ranked among the world's best companies to work for by FORTUNE, this year claiming the 7th spot tied with Southwest Airlines. But perhaps it is time for FedEx to adopt a more explicitly tiered brand architecure, separating ancillary services from the core promise of reliably pulling off the nearly impossible through millions of overnight deliveries a day thoughout the world. Not only would this help FedEx justify continued premium pricing, it could help usher in a new era of Baby Boomer/Gen X/Millennial workplace productivity and harmony. Perhaps a switch back to FedEx Kinko's for another $700 million?
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