Posts Tagged ‘brand architecture’
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Google X was a project released by Google in March 15, 2005 and was rescinded a day later.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?
Part 1: How building your brand helps you enter (or bulldoze your way into) new products, categories and geographies.
Why invest your brand? Especially a B2B brand? Because it pays off. Handsomely. Let’s look at Google, a brand worth $32 Billion in 2009 according to BusinessWeek. (Yes, that just the brand, not the hard assets. More on brand valuation in an upcoming Brand Valuation blog piece.) Google started off in 1998 as a search engine, competing with a slew of other search providers: Yahoo, Magellan, InfoSeek, AltaVista and a slew of other now irrelevant search brands. Yahoo is the only remaining search competitor worth mentioning, with 14% share of search as of 2/20/2010. That’s 14% compared to Google’s 78%. As a result, I believe, Yahoo decided to turn its brand and business ship toward “personalizing the internet experience” and away from pure search (watch for an upcoming blog on that soon).
Google’s stated mission from the outset was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” and it has certainly succeeded. In pursuing that objective, the company held two beliefs they bet their life on: 1) “The user is in charge.” And 2.) “If users come, so will revenue.”
Both of those beliefs served to be right. Google quickly monetized their leadership in the space by starting AdWords, their flagship advertising product and main source of revenue ($23.7 Billion in 2009). And then used the power of their brand and reach to enter (or bulldoze into) new categories.
1. Online productivity software, including email and documents (where Yahoo was the clear leader at the time, and still is: 3.8% share vs. 0.8%)
2. Desktop apps (GoogleWave)
3. The Chrome browser
4. Picasa photo editing and organization
5. GoogleTalk instant messaging
6. SketchUp 3D modeling
7. The incredible and comprehensive GoogleEarth
8. And most recently, mobile phones and operating systems: Google Phone and Android.
I would suggest that these entries would have only a tenth of their current buzz and value if they were coming from an unknown brand, even if that unknown company were better qualified in the category.
So how can Google’s story help you with your business? The first thing it says is to set an inspiring and badly needed vision/mission for your business, however large or small it may be. Make sure people really want what you’re offering them. Then, become better at delivering it than your competitors, because they will try to copy you.
Then, build your brand:
Create a compelling promise that asserts your leadership
Design it beautifully verbally and visually
Work diligently to deliver on your promise. Emphasis on the word “work”. Brands don’t become great because of beautiful design or catchy phrasing. They become great because companies DELIVER great product and service experiences that live up to their brand promise: their cause, you might say.
If you let people down on your promise, you’ll be worse off.
Once you’ve delivered great experiences, you will have earned the right to branch into other categories and geographies. You’ll be afforded product and/or service trial (and even forgiveness if you stumble) where before, you wouldn’t even be considered.
Does this happen overnight? No. Does great branding replace great business strategy and value delivery? No. But it does take great companies to new heights. And gives them a huge club to walk around with.
What do YOU think?
Why are many brands unintentionally hijacked by their own people and strategies?
There have been many papers and books written on the importance of brand alignment, employee engagement, brand adoption, call it what you may. So, why do so many companies still suffer from poor employee morale, low retention, misalignment, performance fatigue and the inability to make good on their brand promise?
To answer the question, all you need to do is look at the typical business eco-system – its structure, interactions, systems and most importantly its accountability and philosophy. For the most part, business in America is built in a departmental fashion, and the larger the company becomes, the more susceptible it is to falling into a “Silo” mentality. Obviously the “Silo” effect works against the principle of being aligned, collaborative and fully informed. When the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, they are left to their own interpretation and often work against the brand’s best intentions.
Structure is the next problem. The biggest problem here is, who is really in charge of pulling the entire picture together and reporting on its effectiveness. HR deals with internal issues, marketing controls brand, operations tries to deliver the goods and sales. So the problem is not only that “Silos” are not conducive to collaboration, but that structures typically are not built to orchestrate a bigger picture mentality and understanding of the customer experience, the internal experience and how it’s being perceived and delivered.
In addition, companies often fail to develop well thought out interactive/collaborative processes to foster “informative decision making” internally and externally. Yes, most companies have some loosely defined collaborative meeting structure but most don’t monitor the internal brand working relationship to the external delivery. Again, people and departments are left to make decisions without confirmation of alignment to the overall strategies.
One of the biggest disconnects we often experience is the division and disconnect of Marketing and HR. So often these departments work on their own strategies without coming together to fully agree and embrace how the communication content is generated and distributed. We find that successful companies and brands that co-develop strategies and shared systems experience greater unity and brand performance.
So, if you’re looking to increase the morale of your organization, improve retention, or better deliver on your customer experience and brand, here’s a few things to think about:
1. Have a holistic view. Don’t develop brand strategies as it relates to your brand experience strictly in a departmental fashion. Bring department leaders together to truly understand the internal/external workings of the brand. Develop a brand council comprised of your department leaders, to guide, instruct and monitor the internal and external brand experience.
2. Say NO to “Silos”. If this is an issue, break it down now, it will only get worse. Especially make sure Marketing and HR are collaborating in strategy and the development of monitoring metrics (and don’t leave out operations).
3. Continual innovative communication. I know it sounds obvious but people need to hear strategy over and over to get it. You must reinforce the importance of the organization to nurture and foster brilliant internal communication and to have external proof that the brand is performing to its intended standards.
If you follow these simple rules, you’ll reduce the chances of your brand being hijacked by its own people. But that’s my opinion, what’s yours?
Is it just me or is the tech industry finally getting back to investing in their brands?
For some tech companies this may be good news, but for others it may be too late.
Let’s face it, 2009 was pretty bleak as it relates to creative marketing. Sure there were a few brave brands that continued to push the limits and invest during this downturn but for most technology marketers 2009 seemed more like a duck and cover exercise. Most of us expected to see the typical surge from the consumer electronics industry during the holiday season, but did you anticipate big investments from some of the technology powerhouses in the fourth quarter?
Let’s start with Intel (one of my favorite B2B brands). They continued to invest in their brand as usual but took a slightly different approach by moving beyond only product advertising (applause here). They introduced their new “Rock Star” campaign—“Sponsors of Tomorrow”, featuring their people— the very thing that makes them different. This culturally driven brand expression is brilliantly displayed in a contemporary but authentic fashion. If you have not seen the spots, I strongly suggest checking them out to see how B2B branding should be done.
Next, there is Yahoo spending in excess of $100 million on re-energizing its brand with the “It’s You” campaign. Although the campaign is eloquently produced, it’s not for me. It seems like Yahoo has been on vacation during the last several years of innovation and lost its once celebrated cache. Nevertheless, they are back in the game and it will be interesting to see how consumers react, or don’t, to their welcome back positioning.
We’ve also seen Microsoft demonstrate its commitment to investing in its products by launching the Windows 7 operating system to the tune of $300 million. So what’s with the recent surge of investment by Tech firms?
That’s simple, it’s time to get back in the game—and the ones who lead the charge are the ones who reap the rewards. Let’s face it, whether you’re a large or small company, marketing is about timing and connecting. So, as you look at your own company, ask yourself a few questions. Are we poised to take advantage of the first mover position? Is our brand correctly positioned in light of the major changes in the marketplace and is our messaging strategy relevant to the current audience needs. Posing these questions to your leadership team should bring up some interesting points of view.
But that’s my point of view? What’s yours?
Originally posted on B2BBrandDebate
Geoffrey Moore, best-selling author of “Dealing with Darwin” and others, recently posted on his blog that, for B2B companies, the “impact of brand is dramatically muted,” and that “brand value…has virtually no relevance to B2B complex systems enterprises.” No doubt, Moore is a brilliant business strategist, but these statements give me doubts about his expertise when it comes to brand strategy. At the very least, I disagree with his assessment of the impact a strong brand can have in the B2B arena.
Moore touches on the idea that “nobody ever got fired for hiring…” but underestimates the power of creating a focused, differentiated brand identity. The idea that decision-makers in B2B companies somehow make decisions entirely differently when they’re choosing consumer products or business partners—even if they think they’re making the decisions based on different criteria—simply doesn’t hold up. It’s been proven wrong again and again in fields ranging from advertising to neuroscience. For example, we may think we want to do business with Siemens because of the details of their RFP response, but in fact their brand’s association with answering difficult questions may bias us in their favor, even without us knowing it.
Unfortunately, Moore’s narrow view of branding will give the wrong impression to B2B businesses, who in this economy can’t afford not to position their brands so that they create powerful connections with their customers and prospects. While achieving such a connection may not fit Interbrand’s definition of brand value, I challenge Mr. Moore to find a B2B business owner that would describe it as only “marginally” important.
Ok, it goes without saying that every B2B company marvels and envies the “Intel inside” story. I can’t tell you how many times prospects and clients have referenced this B2B success, not to mention the numerous Intel employee stories and variations on how this success was created and achieved. It’s an OEM marketer’s dream to create such brand preference, demand and value. For B2B technology companies it is—– Brand Nirvana.
But somehow, throughout the 15 years since its conception, Intel’s brand strategy/architecture lost its way. The original idea of simplicity and value creation was lost in the multiple names and brands that squeaked their way into the primary brand’s strategy and positioning.
But Intel is not alone; this is a common problem that technology brands run into. Product managers and marketers think they have to have a name/sub-brand for every new product and platform they dream up. Then, all of a sudden they have brand confusion and dilution.
But why? Mostly because marketers don’t formalize their brand architecture strategy and give it the attention it deserves. Alan Brew, a colleague of mine wrote an article on this subject and nailed it perfectly.
“The problem with brand architecture is that it’s such a fuzzy term and every organization has its own meaning.” Or more frightening, no meaning at all.
This brings me back to the Intel Inside strategy. Recently Deborah Conrad, Vice President of Corporate Marketing has made changes to the strategy by reducing the number of brands and introducing “modifiers” into the core brand which signal different features and benefits. See Video
I applauded her intentions. It’s an interesting concept and you should check it out. But in my opinion, this has replaced complexity with a whole new set of issues. I’m a strong believer in simplicity and single thought. Trying to differentiate the company, the positioning of “Intel Inside”, and product differentiation might be too much for the audience to digest. In my experience, simple is better. People can only remember so much. Keep product positioning strategies separate and brand strategy pure. That being said, I’m sure Intel will do just fine. Who’s knows, maybe this is the first step towards getting back to the simplicity and originality of the idea that helped shape the company in the first place.
But that’s my opinion, what’s yours?
If you haven’t revisited your brand architecture in more than a year, it’s likely what you’re building is a façade, rather than reinforcing a foundation. Because technology and innovation are inextricably linked, tech companies are continuously introducing new products and services, and in most cases, adding brands and sub-brands into their product portfolios. Over time, even a sound architecture can begin to crumble under the strain of too many overlapping brand layers.
It’s not as if tech marketers are trying to create brand disorder and chaos, it’s just that inattention to brand architecture necessarily results in inefficient brand structures. When I was at FileNet (now part of IBM), the company had already made a smart decision to consolidate disparate brand identities under the master brand FileNet. Nevertheless, after several years of acquisitions and a steady stream of product introductions, our branded house was in disarray, with five levels of brand architecture creating confusing and often overlapping messages to the marketplace.
In addition to the product brand (e.g. FileNet Content Manager), the company was branding specific features (e.g. ZeroClick), technologies (Content Federation Services), even the GUI which was only evident upon product installation (i.e. FileNet Workplace). After careful examination with help from a strategic branding firm, we streamlined our brand architecture to just two levels (FileNet + Product Brand), and relegated all other competing brand identities to the descriptive level to better support and maintain a coherent brand architecture. This process resulted in better informed sales and channel personnel and, most importantly, increased customer clarity over what we offered.
Take this simple test: ask three salespersons to describe your brand architecture and hierarchy (i.e. the various levels of meaning) and see what they say. If you get three different answers, it’s probably time to evaluate your brand architecture. If you get a consistent articulation of your brand hierarchy and associated meaning, congratulations, you can rest until you next major product introduction. If you are actively involved in M&A, this is an even more critical endeavor. In this challenging economy, you need every advantage you can get in driving brand consideration and brand preference, so make sure your building upon a strong foundation and not merely erecting a façade.