Posts Tagged ‘brand strategy’
Welcome back to the conversation about tech brand audit. Last time we talked about the important (and difficult) strategic questions that a tech brand audit answers:
• How do customers, employees, investors and prospects really see us?
• Which brand attributes and personality do we and our competitors ‘own’?
• How much ‘permission’ does our brand(s) have to offer new products or enter new markets?
• How cohesive and compelling is our brand story and promise?
• What internal and external challenges do we face in developing and strengthening our brand to drive our business forward?
• Which touchpoints have the most impact for building our brand?
To answer these questions, usually an outside company undertakes a number of key pieces of analysis. So let’s talk about the analyses that typically comprise a brand audit, and how they help answer the strategic questions above.
Keep in mind: the ultimate purpose of tech branding is not answering tough questions or pretty logos and websites. It’s about revenue deriving from the sale of your technology/products. Revenue is driven by:
1. More people being aware of you, or increasing brand awareness.
2. The trial period of people trying your product or service.
3. Consumers preferring you and then coming back for more, or brand preference and brand loyalty.
That’s it. Period, end of story.
So what key pieces of information need to be identified to accomplish this feat? There are at least three key analyses that typically comprise a tech brand audit:
1. Competitive analysis: what competing technology providers are offering and/or copying?
2. Customer insights: how do customers think about and buy your services/technology?
3. Communications audit: how are you presenting your technology and company to the world?
I should mention here that the most critical part of brand strategy work, one almost always overlooked, is a rigorous analysis of business strategy. Brand strategy development without this critical and often difficult analysis ends up being flimsy and incomplete, even if it covers other internal, competitor and customer insights well. A thorough brand audit will highlight the specific business strategy issues that senior management needs to iron out before working on the brand.
For the purpose of this blog I’ll focus on communications audit (point number 3 above), which includes reviews of the following brand communication components:
• Data Sheets
• Case Studies
• White Papers
• Annual Reports
• Stationery/Business Cards/other branded 2D items
• Social Media
- Tradeshow Booth: Interior/exterior
- Product nomenclature/architecture
- Brand guidelines
Each of these components is reviewed with the following questions in mind:
• How cohesive and compelling is our brand story and promise?
• How effective and relevant are these pieces in communicating our unique value to the world?
• Do these support our business now?
• Do these support our plans for the future?
If any answers to these four questions are not a resounding “Yes!”, then this piece of a brand audit has done its job. Namely, highlighting areas of the brand, and possibly business strategy as well, that need rigorous and thoughtful development and execution.
Next time, I’ll give some insight into the first of two points relating to a tech brand audit: customer insights and competitive analysis.
If you have any questions or comments about a brand audit please do not be shy, I’ll be quick to respond and happy to assist your efforts.
Do you completely understand what a brand positioning statement does? Do you know how it is used and why it’s critical for your brand? Has your company adopted a well thought out brand positioning statement?
Well, if the answer is no to any of these questions, you should definitely keep reading. Even if you listed three yeses, there are more than likely some key insights to be taken from the insights below.
First of all, it’s best to explain the philosophy, interpretation and practicality of using such a critical strategic tool. Simply stated, a brand position statement should provide the underlying platform for all communications. It should distinguish and differentiate the company in its market by constantly articulating its point of differentiation and unique value.
More than most industries, a corporate brand positioning statement is crucial to the success of a technology company. In most cases the tech consumer is choosing the specific product based on his or her confidence in the brand. How the technology company positions itself within the marketplace is paramount in the decision buying process.
So what exactly is a brand positioning statement? It is a simple, concise written statement of the concept and parameters behind a brand meant to convey a brand’s supported point of distinction relative to competitors.
The main components of a well-crafted brand positioning statement include:
1. Definition: How does the company define itself?
2. Differentiation: What makes the company special?
3. Deliverable: What value does the company deliver to all customers?
Following this cadence and structure really forces a company to examine its brand strategy. My experience shows the most successful brands have powerful brand positioning statements that control the brand’s destiny as well as drive internal and external communication. This statement is at the heart of differentiation for every brand strategy I have developed.
As you ponder an existing brand positioning statement, or the creation of a new one, consider the following points to ensure its truly unique and differentiating.
1. Credible: Will people believe it?
2. Relevant: Will people care?
3. Unique: Can anyone else believable claim it?
4. Durable: Will it last?
5. Inspiring: Will it engage people emotionally
If you follow this thinking, you can be assured the brand positioning statement will not only be effective but also stand the test of time.
So, now what do you think about a brand positioning statement? Can a successful brand live without it?
Please send us your comments and experiences. Let’s hear some more ideas on ways to create a winning brand positioning statement.
In the first of two parts we explore what is a Brand Audit and why tech companies choose to conduct them.
Remember the fantastic scene from “A Few Good Men” where Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise), an inexperienced military trial lawyer, confronts a seasoned Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson) about the facts surrounding the apparent murder of a fellow Marine? “I want the truth!” exclaims Kaffee in the courtroom. “You can’t handle the truth!” shouts back Jessep.
Although it is sometimes hard to ‘handle’ or swallow, the truth is the idea behind conducting a brand audit. More so than some other industries, tech companies need to know the cold hard truth of how they are perceived in the marketplace. Even if the results hurt the technology brand ego. Because the first step in strengthening brand weaknesses or vulnerabilities is learning precisely where the brand value stands now.
This year, some tech companies won’t need a full-tilt, top-dollar rebranding. They may have just finished a complete rebranding last year, or recently merged or acquired other brands. They might just need a brand audit to help them with this year’s strategy and resourcing decisions.
What is a brand audit?
A brand audit is a thorough, multi-dimensional analysis to understand a company’s brand(s), its internal and external perceptions, and their strategic implications. Brand audits often include rigorous competitor brand evaluations to deliver strategic context and recommendations to its findings.
A brand audit answers questions such as:
- How do prospects really view the technology brand?
- Which brand attributes and personality does it and its competitors ‘own’?
- How much ‘permission’ does the brand have to offer new products or enter new markets?
- How cohesive and compelling is the tech brand story and promise?
- What internal and external challenges stand in the way of developing and strengthening brand to drive business forward?
- Which touch points have the most impact for building this technology brand?
- How should brand position change to be most effective against competitors?
- Is it wise to go ‘head-to-head’ with primary competitors? Why or why not?
- What differentiators do the brand offer that cannot be easily copied?
- How relevant is the brand in today’s marketplace? How believable is brand promise? How differentiated?
In many cases, technology brands ‘lead with the tech’. They believe it will be compelling enough to drive the trial, preference, and repeat business that drive future revenue. Technology is only part of the value offered by Apple, Google or Microsoft. These technology leaders all carry brand value and associations far beyond the technology they offer: prestige (or ‘everyman-ness’), cool (or not-so-cool) ‘geekiness’, self-expression, social or economic status, values, etc.
Top technology brands also carry associations related to value delivery, service quality, and relative pricing, whether it’s their products or stock. The brand value goes far beyond a technological development.
Unfortunately, executives do not always want to hear the truth about their brands. Lack of honest insights can cause uninformed decisions and leave them wondering why the numbers or performance of their brand is not improving.
Can your team handle the truth? Let us know how you uncover the honest data that leads to informed decisions.
Next time, we’ll look at the specific elements of a brand audit, and why it can be a relatively inexpensive and extremely effective tool.
Conducting a brand creation or re-branding assignment can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a marketer. But for some folks it can be a daunting task that leaves the organization with a bad taste in its mouth for branding based on one terrible experience.
Throughout the years I have heard horror stories and experienced the good, bad and ugly of branding first hand. That’s why I wanted to give you a list to help circumvent the pitfalls so many technology brands succumb to.
Here is my Top 10 list of what not to do when it’s time to conquer brand development.
1. No commitment from C-Level suite.
It is number one for a reason. If you do not have strong support from the top a branding effort is worthless and doomed for failure. Rarely can a successful brand strategy be pushed from the bottom up. Take it from experience. It simply does not work.
2. Lack of buy-in from top executives.
Connected to the first point, executive buy-in is mission critical. You will earn the support of top execs by introducing the process, expectations and specific deliverables. Ensure the executive team understands the goal and owns the outcome to secure their buy-in. For if you do not have a nod from the top, it’s highly unlikely the initiative will survive let alone thrive.
3. Setting the wrong expectations.
Specify expectations, deliverables and budget before starting the project. Do not fall into the trap of thinking the brand development process will resolve every issue. Collaboration and coordination with key stakeholders across all levels and departments of the company is critical. For example if you cannot articulate a well thought out market strategy, you won’t be able to articulate a thoughtful brand position and vice versa.
4. Absence of a cohesive process.
The process should be your best friend. If you’re not using a proven plan of attack that involves internal and external as well as competitive insights, simply stop. A smart process allows you to weed out opinions that are not supported by validated research. Anything else is fool’s gold.
5. Focusing on opinions from legacy employees can kill the process.
You’ve got to remove opinions from the equation at some point in the process to move your thinking forward. Focus on getting a current snap shot of your customers’ understanding of the category. Learn how customers view your brand against the competition. Lastly, it’s imperative you understand what is currently owned by the competition. Creating a brand position that’s currently occupied by a competitor is not a good thing. Believe me, it’s happened.
6. Failure to know category definition.
For technology companies this is a must. Often we see companies build brand strategies that are not aligned with an existing category definition. Understand where you fit according to Gartner or Forrester. Technology buyers rely on these organizations to validate their purchasing decisions. If you do not know where you fit, develop a strategy and path. Never start the brand positioning process until your team agrees on the category definition.
7. Without a clear position, you’re dead.
Every step puts you closer to an intelligent conversation on the most important topic of brand positioning. If you don’t have complete alignment on the position do not move forward with developing the brand expression. This is where the rubber hits the road. Create a positioning statement that clearly demonstrates your differentiation. This is paramount to having your executives agree to deliver brilliant creative. Lack of agreement is just cause to stop moving forward.
8. Boring brand creative expression will not go far.
Just because you’re a technology company does not mean your brand expression should be boring. This is a time to set the bar for the industry. With solid positioning you can create better brand expression and design. Push it. People remember fresh and new.
9. Employees must not only ‘get it’, but also love it and live it.
You’re only as good as the people who represent you. The worst thing you can do is create a promising brand and not have your people understand what it means and how it effects their role. Successful branding strategies usually start from the inside out. Begin with employees first before working your way out to the external marketplace.
10. Manage your brand, or it will be managed for you.
The best technology brands in the world start with a philosophy and process on how they manage the brand. They develop a well thought out management system and standards to guide the brand. The last thing you want is to have people and marketers making arbitrary decisions on how the brand should be represented and managed. This is the difference between building a mediocre brand or world-class brand.
Before embarking upon a branding journey, consider all the things that could steer the ship in the wrong direction. Knowing what could possibly go wrong will give you a better shot at staying on course.
But this is just the view from where I sit at our branding firm. What would you add or change from this list? I welcome all comments and input for other blog topics you would like to explore.
Best of luck with your brands.
Last time we talked Brand Council, it was about who should be on it and what the Council can do to inform the strategic decision-making in a company. The Brand Council should bring a brand lens to organization-wide decisions and activities to ensure adherence to the brand promise and to protect and build brand value.
How to “turbo charge” your Brand Council
1. Define the right Mandate for your organization
I would suggest that your Brand Council clearly articulate its mandate and have the authority to hold your organization’s people accountable for decisions, actions and behaviors that align with the brand.
The mandate can be simple, “To consider corporate decisions from the point of view of their impact on and alignment with the brand.” Or it can be elaborate, “with tactical objectives and metrics to evaluate business decisions.” Your mandate should also specify the rules and conditions under which issues are brought to the Brand Council for discussion, resolution and communication to the broader organization.
“Our expectation is that the Brand Council be a stakeholder-led control and implementation of the brand against a clear set of guidelines.” – Managing Director, Leading European retailer
2. Meet regularly
Frequency and continuity are vital to institutionalize the Brand Council into your organization’s culture. To establish continuity, the Brand Council should meet at least once every quarter on strategic issues and even more frequently on tactical issues.
In addition to regular meetings, the Brand Council should have the flexibility to convene as the need arises. For example events or operations that impact the brand, responses to recent competitive and/or internal developments such as analyst report releases, new hires, customer satisfaction surveys, etc.
3. Be “brand-centered”
a. Your brand must have a high profile inside your organization. This responsibility typically lies at the door of the C-suite. C-level managers must maintain a high profile for your brand by making a business investment in the brand and supporting the investment by demonstrating a personal pride in what the brand stands for. Simply stated, they need to lead by example in living your brand.
b. Your brand lives beyond marketing. View brand building as a holistic organizational responsibility as opposed to the duty of your marketing department. The functional areas and business units within your organization need to understand, through their leaders on the Brand Council, how they contribute to brand value.
4. Inspire your organization through Brand Ambassadors.
“The key is to ensure that the Council is controlling the brand, but also that it provides the freedom to work within a defined set of parameters.”
– Managing Director, Leading European retailer
The Brand Council also guides and manages the activities of your Brand Ambassadors. Your employees can make or break your brand. When properly inspired and empowered, your Brand Ambassadors will lead your employees to make the brand thrive within your organization and, ultimately, with your customers.
Potential bumps in the road
1. A lack of consensus on the importance of the brand to the organization
The Brand Council is a holistic representation of the organization. Therefore, its members, regardless of functional area, should believe in the brand as a vital corporate asset that merits the time, discussion and collaboration of the organization’s senior leadership.
2. The absence of a clear mandate
Branding can be abstract, even to experienced leaders and managers. Part of the Brand Council’s function is to educate its members and the wider organization about the role and potential value of the brand. A clear, well defined and well communicated Brand Council Mandate ensures that the organization understands the purpose of the Brand Council and the value it can bring.
3. Infrequent meetings
A lack of regular Brand Council meetings hinders the momentum on brand-related discussions and sends the message that the brand is a lower business priority.
4. The absence of C-suite support
C-suite support of the Brand Council is critical, especially at the outset, in order to give the Brand Council the credibility and visibility it needs to enable effective strategic brand decisions. Without this support, the Brand Council runs the risk of losing relevance among the organization’s functional leaders.
5. A highly fragmented organizational culture
Structure that favors operation in “silos” over enterprise-wide communication and collaboration. Here’s a real quote about how people throughout an organization often use the brand in the wrong way, creating dilution and eroding its power:
“People want to re-interpret and re-invent things.” – Managing Director, Leading European retailer
Organizations predisposed to working as autonomous functions, divisions or markets will need to commit themselves to greater intra-company collaboration in order to benefit from creating a Brand Council.
6. Incomplete execution on Brand Council decisions
Like any organization and its functional areas, the Brand Council should be evaluated on business results. Leadership can only make this assessment if the organization consistently executes on the Brand Council’s decisions, and monitors the resulting impact on performance.
This concludes our three-part series on the Brand Council. In short, the Brand Council oversees the activities whereby the brand contributes to shareholder value. When your Brand Council guides business activities to align with the brand promise, your organization will benefit from satisfied customers. Over time, consistent and satisfying brand experiences will transform satisfied customers into loyal customers, which, in turn, helps you secure and grow future earnings and create economic value.
What are your thoughts about Brand Councils?
Does your organization utilize one and is effective?
Would you agree with or refute anything I’ve mentioned in these posts?
Why category positioning is paramount to building a successful technology brand.
During the first part of this series we spoke about the importance of defining your business category and brand positioning. The second part focused on the approach and type of insights you must acquire before entering the strategic phase. To finalize this series, we need to explore ideation; defining your category, crafting a winning position and establishing brand strategy.
First of all, ask yourself and your team a very simple question. Does your current and future business model/strategy and offering fit into an existing category that is clearly recognized and defined by your audience and qualified industry analyst (such as Gartner or Forrester)?
If the answer is yes, then you can craft a well-defined category description base upon the current interpretation and competitive considerations set, but more importantly you must now clearly understand who already owns what in the category and determine what positioning will give you the greatest value and differentiation.
Clearly if any of your competitors already own a positioning space that’s seated in the mind of your audience, stay away from trying to take it over. In our experience this is a losing proposition. Remember how your customers think. They will know you for ONE thing (as the accompanying video so poignantly points out).
So pick something you can own long term. Something fresh. Something new. And that usually starts with being first at something.
A good way to start thinking about a winning position and brand strategy is to ask yourself a few questions to generate ideas. Here’s a few things to think about:
1. What are you good at?
2. What do you love to do?
3. What can you be famous for?
(Thank you to Tom Peters for providing this wonderful way to explore brand positioning.)
Once you’ve articulated these thoughts, put yourself to the test of trying to narrow it down to one word or simple idea. Remember, the more narrow the focus the stronger the technology brand. Throughout history most great technology brands can be articulated in a word or two.
Dell owned personal (before it was commoditized). Linksys owned networking before they were bought by Cisco. And Cisco is trying to own Human Network. And the list goes on.
So you see, it must be simple. It must be believable. It must be relevant and most importantly it has to be defendable! These are always good criteria to put against your thinking.
But what happens if you don’t fit into a category? What happens when Gartner or Forrester don‘t recognize or have a category that fits your business? Well, that’s a little tougher.
Basically you’ve got a few options:
1. Work with Gartner or Forrester to co-develop the category (this takes time and money).
2. Identify the category you are closest too and tweak the definition slightly so your audience understands but gets a refreshed view and new spin on it.
3. Create a new category. This is the most courageous/interesting and potently valuable. However, it’s also tricky and takes considerable thinking, making it a great idea for the subject of a future blog.
Technically speaking, understanding what business you are in and defining your category and position is fundamental to growth and building value. But that’s just my opinion, what’s yours?
I hope you enjoyed this series, please submit your comments, experiences and suggestions on other topics you’d like to discuss. Best of luck with your businesses.
Who is part of the Brand Council and what are its functions and processes?
Last time, we talked about why almost all companies, technology companies especially, need a Brand Council. Technology companies in particular struggle to enhance the value of their brands by aligning their activities to deliver a fulfilling customer experience beyond the functional and/or technological benefits they offer. All genres of technology are being replicated more and more quickly each year, and customers are getting more and more sophisticated.
The beautiful and invaluable thing to remember about a great technology brand is that it can’t be copied.
Constituting a Brand Council for technology-focused companies
We suggest following two guiding principles to determine who should be a member of your Brand Council:
1. Your Brand Council should have a senior representative from each functional area, since all areas impact the delivery of your brand promise, including:
· C-suite management
· Human Capital Resources
· Public/Investor Relations
· Research and Development
We recommend that you also retain an external consulting partner to maintain an objective point of view and provide your Brand Council with current and top branding strategies.
2. A member of senior management should be your Brand Council Leader. This individual should represent the importance and visibility that your organization wishes to give to the brand. We recommend a CEO or COO. The Brand Council should also have a Chair who is responsible for setting the agendas and directing the meetings.
The Brand Council provides strategic brand governance in five categories:
1. Creation/management of the brand
2. Challenges and opportunities for the brand
3. Brand compliance
4. Brand measurement and refinement
5. Brand culture
Beyond “Logo Police”
Following are the types of issues that you may encounter in your Brand Council, grouped into the five categories introduced above.
1. Brand Creation/Brand Management
a. Alignment between business strategy and brand strategy
What is our business strategy, including our short- and long-term business objectives? How does the brand strategy bring this business strategy to life?
b. Business objectives formulation and assessment
How can we leverage the brand to achieve our business objectives (i.e., revenue growth, cost reduction, market share growth, etc.)? How have these objectives changed in the last year/quarter and what impact could these have on the brand?
c. Product and /or service portfolio decisions
Which products/services complement the brand direction and, therefore, warrant a current or future investment? Conversely, which products/services should be rationalized because they no longer match with the brand promise? What is the best ongoing process to review our portfolio?
2. Brand Opportunities and Challenges
a. Operational choices and decisions
How should the brand promise guide everyday operational issues and/or decisions (e.g., work quality, defect rates, product design, response times, communication gaps, product line or service gaps)? Conversely, how do these operational issues and/or decisions affect the brand?
b. Customer targeting
Which new customers are most likely to benefit from the values, objectives and promise that our brand stands for?
c. Merger and acquisition evaluation
When evaluating potential mergers or acquisitions, which organization(s) would complement our existing brand promise? How do these organizations fit into our existing portfolio? What would be the brand implications of merging with or acquiring these organizations? How can we manage the brand to maximize value for an upcoming liquidity or merger event?
d. Prospective partner assessment
Which potential co-branding partnerships will align with our brand promise and values? Which of these partnerships might be most beneficial for building brand equity?
e. Competitive analysis and response
How does the brand help us differentiate ourselves and de-position our competitors? How can the brand dictate our response to competitive activity?
3. Brand compliance
How do advertising, communications, signage, online and other applications of our identity (e.g., logo, visual vocabulary, language and tone of voice) align with our guidelines for consistent brand expression? Should there be differences in brand expression in the organization and, if so, what are these differences? What are the challenge areas (e.g., too many versions of the logo, inconsistent execution across applications) in the expression of the brand?
4. Brand measurement and refinement
General brand assessment What is the state of the brand (e.g., metrics definition and tracking, findings and implications from any recent brand research, recent media mentions, share of brand choice, etc.)? How do we measure the brand’s performance against the competition in a changing marketplace?
5. Brand culture
a. Brand culture assessment
How deeply are our employees engaged with the brand? How well are our brand attributes being embraced internally to help shape desired behaviors and attitudes? What new programs should we develop to keep people engaged and “living” the brand?
b. Customer touchpoint management
How well have the multiple interactions that customers have with the organization been considered and aligned with the brand? Have touchpoints been mapped and analyzed for improvement so that investment can be directed to those that have the greatest potential for positive impact on the customer experience?
Next time, in Part 3 of 3, we’ll look at specific ways to turbo charge your Brand Council, and pitfalls to avoid.
Part 1 of 3: What is a Brand Council, and why tech companies need them
It is now commonly understood that brands represent significant corporate value and are among an organization’s most valuable assets. This value has been demonstrated in brand valuation rankings and acquisition prices worldwide.
Properly created and managed, your brand helps generate operational and economic value by:
- Enhancing awareness, consideration, trial and loyalty
- Adding value to your offering beyond price or technology, both of which can be copied
- Attracting and retaining customers with an engaging promise and experience
- Guiding and informing business decisions and activities
- Attracting and retaining top-tier talent and partners
- Easing entry into new markets
- Commanding price premiums
- Facilitating brand extensions into new products and categories
One of the most pressing challenges we address with clients is how to make business decisions that are consistent with their brand. Technology companies especially struggle to enhance the value of their brands by aligning their activities to deliver a fulfilling customer experience beyond the functional and/or technological benefits they offer.
Consider the following questions:
- Our tech firm has developed a new offering/product/service. Do we need a separate brand? Why or why not?
- One or more aspects of our performance may be hurting our brand image. How can we prioritize where we should take corrective action to protect and build our brand?
- We’re considering a merger, partnership or divestiture. How might that affect our brand(s)? How do we assess which brands to use, how to transition them, over what time period, and why?
Your organization is collectively responsible for creating an expected and consistent brand experience. The challenge becomes how your organization, with its multiple layers, multiple divisions and multiple markets, comes together to address the strategic and tactical issues related to brand management.
The Brand Council defined
A Brand Council is a leadership group, led by the CEO and representative of your larger organization, with one mandate:
To ensure that business strategies, processes, decisions and actions are aligned with the brand’s positioning and values – namely, your organization’s unique promise of distinction.
This, in turn, focuses the entire organization on delivering the fulfilling customer experience that secures loyalty and future earnings. Apple’s brand practically guarantees that every new product or partnership will meet with huge demand, forgiveness for mistakes and general success. Apple has a top secret Brand Council, led by Steve Jobs and other key leaders, whose job it is to steward the brand, and with it, Apple’s success.
The Brand Council provides strategic brand governance in four categories:
1. Creation/management of the brand
2. Challenges and opportunities for the brand
3. Brand compliance
4. Brand measurement and refinement
5. Brand culture
Next week, in Part 2 of 3, we’ll look at the specific makeup of Brand Councils around the world, the 5 functions they typically perform, and the process by which they do it.
In the final installment, in Part 3 of 3, we’ll look at specific ways to turbocharge your Brand Council, and pitfalls to avoid.
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?