Brands Begin Blazing New Trails
March 1, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Aaker called from Tokyo the other night to talk about high-tech
“The problem high-tech companies have,” said Aaker,
author of multiple books on branding, “is too many brands
and too much confusion. Innovation creates so many product offerings.
A lot of times they are so messy they are paralyzed by it.”
second problem,” said the thought leader behind San Francisco-based
Prophet, the global branding consultancy, “(is) they don’t
know how to focus their brands.”
and his colleague Michael Dunn, Prophet’s president and
CEO, reminded me of IBM in the days before former IBM CEO Louis
Gerstner Jr. brought in Abby Kohnstamm (IBM’s current senior
vice president of marketing) and consolidated his agencies. Gerstner
and Kohnstamm focused their brand building using the now-famous
“Solutions for a Small Planet” and “e-business”
his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Gerstner
praises Kohnstamm. He designates the refocusing of the IBM global
brand as one of the cornerstones of his successful turnaround
of the struggling IBM.
With the economy improving and emerging tech companies such as
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based domain name registrar GoDaddy Software
Inc. turning to Super Bowl advertising, it seems time to revisit
the state of high-tech branding.
There’s another reason to consider technology and branding.
Technology is changing media and the tools of branding. TiVo and
Google, digital video recorders and search advertising threaten
traditional Madison Avenue advertising shops like never before.
For insights on high-tech branding turning to Prophet, a branding
firm run more like McKinsey than McCann Erickson, makes sense
why not? Aaker’s branding books, such as his Building
Strong Brands, have sold more than 100,000 copies in English
and been translated into 14 languages. Aaker’s writing transformed
branding. He’s put a set of processes and frameworks around
our approach to branding that transcends the old thinking that
branding = advertising. Meanwhile, through Dunn’s efforts,
Prophet serves a veritable “who’s who” of the
“We work with IBM, HP, SAP and Sony,” Dunn says. On
the software side there’s BMC Software and Computer Associates.
We’ve worked with Intuit, Apple, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices,
Fujitsu, Hitachi, Toshiba, Siemens and Nokia. We’ve done
some work with Motorola.” (He had me at “hello”
with IBM, HP and SAP.)
This client roster isn’t bad for a firm that began as Prophet
Market Research in 1992 and only got its brand energy when it
was rechristened Prophet Brand Strategy in 1998. Coincidentally,
that’s about the time Aaker and Dunn joined the firm.
But this is a column about tech branding, not a paean to Prophet.
branding strikes me as bimodal: Big companies such as IBM and
Accenture spend millions in traditional media while start-ups
use new tactics or eschew branding altogether. That’s not
to say the big companies don’t use new media. They do. It’s
just that big companies can afford to pay the sky-high cost of
traditional media while most start-up tech firms won’t risk
the Super Bowl these days, except maybe GoDaddy.
Then there are truly class-leading start-ups like Google that
bake their branding right into their product offer.
“We go back and forth and debate how effective it is,”
Dunn says. “Do you really need to be educating ‘Joe
Public’ about middleware?” he asks, rhetorically.
Yet he believes IBM has become the model for companies like HP,
which are drafting and implementing big mass communications programs.
“You see people trying to replicate the IBM playbook,”
Having helped establish the Andersen Consulting brand in the 1980s,
a precursor to today’s powerhouse Accenture brand, I like
to think Gersterner and Kohnstamm were following the Andersen
Consulting branding model, but I won’t quibble with Dunn.
His point is a good one. There is a class of tech marketers out
there that includes Accenture, Apple, Dell, IBM, Intel and Microsoft
that focus on branding in a big way.
Here are some of Aaker’s comments about these big tech brands:
Accenture: “One of the wonderful brand-building cases
in professional services--a lot of challenges. Creating Accenture
was really non-trivial.”
Apple: “There was a time when you couldn’t talk
about Apple and branding because the company wasn’t doing
well. The business model got squared away. We can talk about
the brand again. The brand has always been strong.”
Dell: “One of the most successful brands. They have really
created an organizational brand around their business model.”
IBM: “They stopped doing all this product stuff and shifted
their resources into the IBM brand.”
Intel: “It was just a marvel what they did with ‘Intel
Inside.’ They developed it and then converted it into
an endorser brand. They didn’t walk away from it. They
are pretty disciplined.”
Microsoft: “They’ve made progress clarifying their
portfolio the last couple of years.”
Google: “The fact that they are not building the brand
in a conventional way does not mean they don’t have a
strong brand. They stick to their knitting, making their product
better and better.”
smaller tech players?
on the board of a $150 million online and catalogue gift retailer,
San Francisco-based RedEnvelope Inc. He says 50% of its marketing
spending is around vehicles and tools that weren’t even
in existence seven years ago.
search, natural search, contextual search and all the different
innovation that is happening online fundamentally changes the
way marketers should think about trying to connect,” Dunn
says. “The smart brand builders are able to effectively
navigate these changes and get a leg up on the competition.”
start-up tech marketers to consider being more opportunistic.
“A lot of times it’s better to sit on the sidelines
for six months and just try to get the buzz going so that people
discover your brand, instead of forcing yourself on them,”
he says. Aaker admires Tivo’s early brand-building approach
of giving units opportunistically to celebrities, which led to
mentions on talk shows and built the brand via word of mouth.
not yet into all this tech brand building but want to get aboard,
Dunn suggests you forget about a job at Procter & Gamble or
tech is going to continue to be exciting and dynamic,” Dunn
says. “That’s probably where I’d go first. Get
a job at eBay in their paid search group or go get a job at Amazon
around their customer retention marketing. I think you’ll
learn more in two years that will be leveragable for the next
20 years than you could at any one of the big packaged goods companies.”
What if you
want to work on building great brands? Should you still head for
Manhattan? If you’re coming out of business school this
June, I suggest you call Prophet. I can’t promise you they’ll
be hiring; it’s a small firm by WPP standards. Still, learning
their broad consulting-based model of brand building will position
you better in the long run than a junior account executive job
on Madison Avenue.
Krauss is a partner with Marion Consulting Partners based in Highland
Park, Ill., and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Marionpartners.com