If you are a designer, you probably love looking at different corporate identities. When I walk the streets of Vancouver, I can’t stop myself from looking at different logos, typography and colours combinations companies have used. This weekend I was in North Vancouver and had lunch at a Persian restaurant called “Zeitoon”. Why did I decide to go to this particular restaurant you ask? Mostly because of their branding and the way it made me feel when looking at it. It was the best looking brand on Lonsdale Avenue so I went in! Luckily the food was also good! However, if the food was horrible, looking at their brand again would make me think that they had a good designer but need a new chef!
I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about corporate and brand identities the past few days from many different points of view. The first angle I started to consider is whether a corporate identity is most important or the product identities under said corporation. For example, what is more important to push out to the public: Procter & Gamble or Crest? Did you know that Crest was made by Procter & Gamble? How about Febreze? Do you care? Perhaps most of you did know the relation but I am sure a good portion of you did not. Why is this? Has Procter & Gamble made an effort to make sure you know they are the parent company?
As explained in Don Schultz and Philip Kitchen’s paper titled “Managing the Changes in Corporate Branding and Communication: Closing and Re-opening the Corporate Umbrella”, they have not, at least they didn’t initially.
“The individual brand concept, developed and perfected by Procter & Gamble in the 1930’s through the 1950s was focused on building entirely separate product brands with seperate organizations, activities, budgets and so on. That concept reached its peak in the era of mass marketing and mass media from the 1960s through the 1980s. In this ‘product brand’ arena, the corporate organization was a detail, a non-entity. In fact, the product brands worked to keep the corporate brand out of sight. The less the connection between the various product brands, the better.” (Schultz and Kitchen)
Do you think Procter & Gamble took the right approach? Schultz and Kitchen do not think they did. They explain that when a company utilizes its product brands to highlight their corporate identity, major risks are incurred but major advantages are gained.
The risk is total marketplace disaster should things go wrong. (This happened with Firestone when the 100-year old company plummeted 50% in a span of a few weeks when their tires got related to over 100 road deaths). In our current Internet age, bad news about a brand travels very fast which makes it very hard for a tarnished brand to recuperate.
Now lets look at the advantages. The advantages, as noted by Schultz and Kitchen, are ones that should be strongly considered if you want growth, longevity and influence.
“…strong corporate brands such as Microsoft, FedEx and GE have done much to build the global value of the organization. IBM, Pfizer, Starbucks and UPS do not have to explain what they do, all the relevant stakeholders know. By the same token, a strong corporate brand such as Virgin, Kraft or Nestle allows those companies to move into new and exciting areas where the recognition of their name often paves the way for instant or near-instant success.”
To conclude the thoughts of Schultz and Kitchen, they believe that present-day corporations must move beyond the old Procter & Gamble days of the 20th century and stand for something that reflects the values of its people, its products, its management and its stakeholders.
And you know what, P&G has already realized this and is thinking differently in the 21st century:
Alright, this makes a lot of sense to me but the Firestone story really scares me! That risk portion of Schultz and Kitchen’s concept is something that corporations really need to make their best efforts to avoid far before considering to use their products to promote their corporate identity. Once the consumer starts to think that your products are crap, there is no amount of branding that you can do to change this image! Many times, trying to fix a problem by doing more branding and marketing simply strengthens the customers image that the product does not match what the brand is trying to tell them. Firestone tires sure did not feel innovative when it was said that people were dying as a result of them.
On the flip side, if a customer loves your product, they automatically love your brand, and usually accept some of your mistakes because they are so in love with you (sounds like a marriage doesn’t it?)
Case and point:
Apple is not a great brand because of their logo, but because of the way their products make you feel when you use them. Steve Jobs did not put too much thought into the name “Apple Inc.”. He simply came back from the apple farm when on one of his “fruititarian diets” and named the company. His real focus was on making great products. Regarding customers accepting problems, remember that antenna issue with the iPhone 4’s? Remember the line up’s for the iPhone 4’s? Mind you a lot of the initial users did not know about this problem before purchase but they still look at the Apple brand the same way they did before they knew about the problem. Nobody remembers (or better said, cares about) that antenna problem today. All people know is that they need an iPhone 4S with Siri (and are anxiously waiting for the next happiness enticing product to be released (iPad 3, iPhone 5, iOS 6?…).
How much focus should a corporation put on their image? Does it matter? Do the colours of a brand really take it to the next level? Is blue and yellow really better than black and yellow? Is there a hidden Jedi force with marketing and branding that alone can make you “level up”?
At the end of the day, it does not matter. At least in my opinion. What we should be focusing on is getting our services and products right. Usability and user satisfaction is critical in winning a consumers heart in this day and age. Consumers are critically thinking through their potential purchases, comparing, and contrasting before they choose a product. I myself spent weeks creating a gigantic excel matrix before making my recent vehicle purchase.
If your products do not work, is not usable, and do not make people feel happy when they use them, you should not use them to push your corporate identity. The corporate identity is only an extension of the emotion a person feels when they use your product or service. The corporate identity is an after thought for the consumer. The scary part is, this emotion could be positive or negative depending on how well your product or service is. Corporations that do not yet have their products and services completely usable should be focusing on this before they even think about pushing their corporate identity.
That’s a wrap. It’s lunch time. Perhaps I should go to Zeitoon again?