Archive for May, 2010
Originally posted on Namedroppings
CA, the company formerly known as Computer Associates, is displaying all the characteristics of Hamlet. It is a company that can’t make up its mind.
Founded in 1976 as Computer Associates International, Inc., the company legally changed its corporate name to CA, Inc., in February 2006 while in the midst of a $2.2 billion fraud investigation that had dogged it for four years.
Explaining the name change at the time, CEO John Swainson said:
“CA is a changed company, but not an entirely new company. We’ve taken the strengths of the past and combined them with new initiatives, strategies and ideas to ensure CA is the clear industry leader in meeting the evolving information technology needs of customers.”
Fair enough – changed but not new. The company had to move forward and CA was, after all, the informal shorthand for the company.
This week the company announced it had changed it’s name again – this time to CA Technologies. Explaining this change, new CEO Bill McCracken, said:
“The name CA Technologies both acknowledges our past yet points to our future as a leader in delivering the technologies that will revolutionize the way IT powers business agility.”
Spot the difference?
While the latest statement does make reference to the current industry buzz-term “business agility”, the two statements are identical in their sentiment and intent. There is nothing to help us understand the logic of the addition of ‘technologies’ in the CA name.
Marianne Budnik, chief marketing officer, did add: “The brand and name change to CA Technologies was designed with insights from nearly 700 customers, partners and market thought leaders.”
This begs the question – insights into what, specifically? I would hazard a guess: CA hasn’t worked as a name. It was a hasty, myopic decision made at a time the company needed to distance itself from a debilitating scandal. CA was the easy choice, but the wrong choice. It just wasn’t thought through.
The pros and cons of initials as corporate names aside (more on this later), CA works visually when connected to the original name, Computer Associates, as in the amended logo introduced in 2001. Dropping the Computer Associates name from the logo was probably regarded as a minor adjustment. And as the internal rationale probably went: competitors such as IBM, HP and BMC do just fine with initials, so why can’t we?
Well, disconnected from Computer Associates, CA becomes problematic for a number of reasons.
Unlike IBM, HP and BMC, CA has no hard letter sounds. Consequently, CA it is not heard as two distinct initials, C and A. It is heard as ‘seeyay’.
Seeyay? Come again. Oh, you mean C-A, the old Computer Associates?
CA is nothing but a weak proxy for Computer Associates, a whiter shade of pale. It is too phonetically lightweight and nondescript as a name and simply not robust enough to acquire meaning of its own.
The other not insignificant problem – Google CA and up come pages of reference to California. CA means California first and foremost.
A new CEO brings in a new perspective. Bill McCracken decides change is necessary and this time it will be based on research. Hence, the insights Ms. Budnik mentioned from nearly 700 customers, partners and market thought leaders. But they were probably in response to a very specific question concerning the CA name, and very likely centered on preferences between modifiers such as CA Software, CA Solutions and CA Technologies, etc.
Only in such a range of soft options could CA Technologies emerge as a winner. ‘Technologies’ is a verbal Band Aid and adds nothing other than a glottal stop to a very inadequate name.
This latest name change amounts to little more than fiddling around the problem, and in doing so CA creates another problem for itself.
In her statement, Ms. Budnik also said the name was “developed to ensure that we tell a consistent story in the market that reflects the full breadth and depth of what we offer.”
A redundant word in a name makes for inconsistency, not consistency. ‘Technologies’ is a such word. Lucent Technologies was always referred to just as Lucent, for example. No doubt CA Technologies will appear on things the company can control, such as corporate signage, stationery and collateral. But in all other cases it will be CA. The company’s ticker symbol is still CA, it’s URL is still ca.com, and the company still defaults to CA in references to itself on its website. It will still be CA in headlines, analyst calls and in conversation. Where is the consistency?
Rather than finessing with the corporate name a simpler option would have been a tagline to anchor the name in some specificity for marketing purposes. EMC’s “Where information lives”, or GE’s “Imagination at work” are two of the better examples.
The better and braver option for Computer Associates would have been to change the name of the company in 2006 when it had reason and opportunity to, the accounting scandal apart. While Computer Associates’ success was built on mainframe software a different future beckons, one in which companies manage their technology in what the industry calls the “cloud.” The name should have claimed that future unequivocally.
Part 2: How a strong tech brand can help with inevitable mistakes
Last time, we talked about Google and how its huge brand (valued at $32 Billion in 2009) helped it to move into new categories completely separate from search. But a strong brand also helps with when a company makes a mistake, and Google has certainly had their fair share of them.
Here are a few of Google’s notable technical and/or market failures, none of which has damaged its brand.
1. Google X (Mac OS Dock-inspired search bar)
Google X was a project released by Google in March 15, 2005 and was rescinded a day later. It consisted of the traditional Google search bar, but it was made to look like the Dock interface feature of Apple’s Mac OS X operating system. Google never released an official statement as to why the project was shut down.
2. Google Answers (online knowledge market)
Google Answers was an online knowledge market offered by Google that allowed users to post bounties for well researched answers to their queries. Asker-accepted answers cost $2 to $200. Google retained 25% of the researcher’s reward and a 50 cent fee per question. In addition to the researcher’s fees, a client who was satisfied with the answer could also leave a tip of up to $100. In late November 2006, Google reported that it planned to permanently shut down the service, and it was fully closed to new activity by late December 2006, although its archives remain available.
3. Orkut (social media tool)
Although not a failure per se, Google’s Orkut is not a roaring success either, at least in the US. It’s a social networking website designed to help users meet new friends and maintain existing relationships. The website is named after its creator, Google employee Orkut Büyükkökten.
Although Orkut is less popular in the United States than competitors Facebook and MySpace, it is one of the most visited websites in India and Brazil. In fact, as of December 2009, 51.09% of Orkut’s users are from Brazil, followed by India with 20.02% and United States with 17.28%.
Originally announced in 2002 as Froogle, now called Google Product search (please notice the re-branding under the Google masterbrand), is a price comparison service launched by Google Inc. It is currently in beta test stage. It was invented by Craig Nevill-Manning. Its interface provides an HTML form field into which a user can type product queries to return lists of vendors selling a particular product, as well as pricing information. Product Search is only available for selected countries at this point.
Google Product Search is different from most other price comparison services in that it neither charges any fees for listings, nor accepts payment for products to show up first. Also, it makes no commission on sales. Any company can submit individual product information via Google Base or can bulk submit items for inclusion. Google sells advertising through AdWords to be displayed in Product Search results adjacent to the unpaid results.
With all of these missteps, because they are Google, and all they represent, the Google brand can act as Teflon to protect them from the usual damage that strategic missteps can sometimes bring about.
Brand-building has defensive as well as offensive benefits. Toyota’s recent battles over potentially faulty acceleration and shifting features shows that even a strong brand can face devastating blows to its image, however true the allegations and/or perceptions prove to be.
So what’s the lesson in this? Even if you aren’t aiming to launch new products or take over new geographies, it pays to continue to invest in, and prove out, your unique promise to the world. That investment and hard work will be a cache of goodwill and positive associations, ready to help fend off any brand damage that might occur, whether it’s deserved or not.
Do you agree? What do YOU think?
“What’s the biggest challenge to creating a successful B2B brand?” I am often asked this question, and without a doubt it’s the decision of what not to be— let me explain. So often, companies want to try and be everything to their customers. Does this sound familiar? Many times when we are working with a client to find their sustainable point of differentiation they will say that it’s many things and not just one; “We’re innovative but have great service at a value price.” Does this sound familiar? There in-lies the challenge. Yes, companies may have differentiation at many different levels, but customers and consumers think differently than businesses do. Your customer’s brain is wired to retain information that is new and different or important to decisions that they are making—everything else gets lost in the sea of sameness. And most importantly, buyers immediately categorize brands based upon their first impression, which means you better be prepared to understand what you can own in the marketplace and what’s most relevant. And that’s where most companies struggle. So often, corporations don’t spend enough time to really understand what makes them different in the minds of their buyers. They resort to value propositions that are confusing, uninteresting, and lacking in singularity for maximum intention—“One Thing”. Trying to build a brand on everything will leave you with nothing.
So if you are in the process of developing a brand position, here are two critical things to consider:
1. Get the brand strategy right.
If the strategy and value proposition has not been created or agreed upon, how can you create a successful brand? Finding the “One Thing” is really a strategic exercise more than anything else. It cannot just be delegated to the marketing department. It needs to be developed with the brain trust of your organization. Only then can the brand team go to work on developing a long lasting, successful brand and delivery strategy.
2. Be the Brand voice of reason. Take the test.
As you begin the strategic branding development process consider using these three elements to make sure you are building a lasting brand strategy.
a. Is it relevant? If what you are saying does not resonate with your buyer, go back to the drawing board. Ask yourself the question, “Will they care?”. Remember , if your customer is not ecstatic over the promise or doesn’t get it, you will be building a promise on a false foundation. And remember, focus on “One Thing”.
b. Is it believable? If you can’t come up with strong reasons to believe, you need to start over. In most cases your employees can tell you immediately if your value proposition will fly. The last thing you want to do is announce a new positioning that people cannot believe. Do yourself a favor, always test your future brand promise with both employees and customers. If it’s not resonating with them and if it’s not credible, you’re in for a rough ride. And remember, focus on “One Thing”.
c. Is it defendable? You need to step back and look at your ecosystem and determine if your new position is defendable. So often, companies build brand promises that are short lived because they did not do the proper homework to understand the competitive environment and market dynamics. The last thing you want is to introduce a brand position that someone can knock down or will become irrelevant in short order. And remember, focus on “One Thing.”
If you start with a clear strategy that’s agreed upon by your executive team and use this criteria to develop brand, you’ll be in great shape to create a long lasting successful brand. And remember, focus on “One thing”. If you try to be known for many things, you‘ll be remembered for nothing. But that’s just my opinion, what’s yours?