Posts tagged ‘brand’


Google organized the web, Facebook our social networks; what does Plus do?

01.07.2011

I see the Google press machine has been switched on as the company pursues the Facebook social-networking market with Plus. Google, I’m betting, must hope that history will repeat itself. It wasn’t the first search engine, it simply did it better. Plus, in Googleland, it is a better proverbial mousetrap than Facebook.
   I might have been on Google’s case in the last few years, though I should remind folks that if they didn’t keep painting big red targets on all their properties, after drawing attention to the company through incompetent support people, I would have no complaints.
   Maybe it’s the anti-Google blinkers I don, but I’ve been thinking about something Stowe Boyd said recently. He recently blogged that Google succeeded with the original search engine because, at that time, someone needed to step in and organize the web. I’ve been around long enough to recall just what a revelation it was when it came out. And it’s the best organizer, according to Stowe, that can earn a few bob.
   Facebook was certainly not the first social network, to use the modern terminology, but it did things better than Bebo and the like. It had a wider targeted audience than LinkedIn, even if it started with a narrower one at Harvard. Facebook organized our social circles, so we can more easily find that tribe of 150 that we like associating with. Even for those of us with “friend” numbers in the four figures, Facebook has allowed us, quite easily, to set up different groups for them.
   Facebook isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. A browse of this blog itself would reveal that it’s severely lacking in many areas. Changing users’ preferences without their permission is one of a long line of Facebook errors over the years. So Google, I read, bets on the fact that it can do privacy better—a position which I found laughable, from the company that failed to put up a privacy policy for Buzz or hid from the public the futility of opting out of its Ads Preferences Manager (both since resolved). There just seems to be a pervading culture by these large Californian corporations of being callous with privacy, which not only reflects badly on them, but their entire sector, and even their country.
   As the brand has been damaged time and time again in my eyes, I began noticing a pattern recently. Nothing that Google has introduced in the last half-decade, or acquired in that period, really matters to me. I don’t use any that appear in my Google account:


Above: The Google services I don’t need are marked in red, though in some cases, I have to retain them due to clients or the Medinge Group. The ones that I was signed up to without my consent are marked in black, though Google Reader received a sneaky implied consent in the small print via Blogger.

Google is, instead, something that helps organize my information. I use Alerts, News and Webmaster Tools, all tied in to things that the company developed in the 1990s and early 2000s. Google does these things well. Google Translate one exception to all of this; and, of course, I have watched YouTube videos. I realize our sites carry some Doubleclick advertising—a consequence of whom our ad networks chose to deal with. (Because of that, we have been relegating those networks to a lower status.) If any of these disappeared overnight, there are substitutes.
   I’m willing to bet that Stowe is right, because Google is still tied to its original offerings, where it has at least been (on the surface) respectful of user privacy. As my colleagues and I wrote in Beyond Branding, people are going to continue demanding transparency—that much is not going to change. Brands that offer it, and aren’t hypocritical about it, will do better. Outside of search and a few other places, Google hasn’t played nice. In fact, I even have my doubts about Google search, despite having Web History turned off.
   Google Plus does not do anything new, and it does not (based solely on reviews I have read, though I do have a Plus invitation) offer greater organization beyond what I already have with Facebook. It has been introduced at a time when I already experience social-networking fatigue with both Facebook and Twitter (Tumblr is visually more stimulating and expressive for me, at the moment). Plus might be able to reignite an interest in social networking for some, especially with Facebook’s declines in membership in certain countries, but I think we’re on the tail end of this fad.
   Question: despite all this, do I go on it? It may not be unwise, for purely commercial reasons: to consider a potential market-place. Google’s marketing machine will draw some people, though my bet is that they will find their social networks are already sufficiently organized. It will last longer than the brief, early-2011 fascination with Quora, especially when it steps out of beta.
   I was on LinkedIn in 2003, Facebook in 2006, Twitter and Tumblr in 2007. But this time, if I join—and it is a big if—it would be a cold, calculated, almost soulless decision. I don’t, and wouldn’t, trust the bastards. It might prove to have all the allure of my MySpace account. I have no desire to see another Google product in my dashboard—I still have to delete a Buzz follower five times a week, despite not having a Buzz account.
   I have justifiably low expectations from this tarnished tech brand. I can just foresee contacts being visible to people who shouldn’t be able to see them. We already know that Buzz and YouTube have messed up, making things visible to people that users might not have expected. I could not willingly subject friends to privacy leaks like that, and Google has demonstrated time and time again that it’s as watertight as the Titanic.
   Who knows? Using it might bring so many disappointments and push me over the edge, after which I’ll write to clients to inform them that I can no longer be the host of Google products that they use, and close the whole bloody account. Sadly, that would include the 400 of you getting this blog through Feedburner. The silver lining, at the moment, is the faint possibility that it would encourage Facebook to be less of a closed system.

Note: Stowe actually likes Google Plus, calling it ‘a giant step forwards’, but for different reasons.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


Chevrolet doesn’t understand branding

11.06.2010

After the chaps at Autocar began following me on Twitter yesterday—after all, I had been reading the magazine since it was part of the Ministry of Magazines, in the post-Iliffe days—I noticed a Tweet about Chevrolet asking its dealers to not refer to the brand as Chevy.
   What?
   According to Autocar:

A leaked GM memo revealed: “We’d ask that whether you’re talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward.
   “When you look at the most recognised brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding. Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer.”
   The document was signed by Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the GM division’s vice president for marketing.

Bad example there, Alan and Jim.
   Coke is to Chevy as Coca-Cola is to Chevrolet.
   And no one ever complains of Coke being inconsistent.
   This is the sort of daft thinking that makes any of us brand professional shudder: total amateurs talking about branding—out of their rear ends.
   It’s this lack of awareness of what branding is, inter alia, that started GM down its slippery path—with only a brief reprieve when Bob Lutz, aware of what GM’s brands stood for, was around.
   By demanding that Chevrolet people not refer to the brand as Chevy does the exact opposite to what brand experts and marketers recommend today: to be one with the consumer.
   I can understand if Chevy was a very negative word, but it isn’t. It’s an endearing word and it does not create inconsistency with the full Chevrolet word. It complements it, connects the brand to the audience, and, perhaps most importantly for GM, builds on the brand’s heritage.
   After all, Chevrolet itself has encouraged the use of the Chevy name for decades in its own advertising—including during its heyday. Omitting the use of Chevy instantly cuts many Chevrolet connections to its stronger past. And that’s a past that can be used for internal brand-building and loyalty.
   There was even, formally, a Chevy model in the 1960s—the line that later became the Nova. The Chevy II nameplate even continued in GM in Argentina in the 1970s.
   The Chevy diminutive is used in many countries where the brand is sold, including South Africa, where it was once as local as braaivleis, rugby and sunny skies.
   Maybe GM can’t afford the same branding advice it used to—in which case it might be better to shut up than issue memoranda that can be ridiculed so easily.
   Or get Bob Lutz back again. One month after retirement, and the natives have lost direction again, Bob.

PS.: From Robin Capper on Twitter, who sums this blog post up in 140 characters or fewer: ‘Poor Don McLean: “Drove my Chevrolet to the levee, but the levee was dry” just doesn’t work’.—JY

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Saab promises new generation of cars will have original DNA

26.02.2010

Rumour has it that the new Saab—a small car (finally)—will resemble the ur-Saab, the 92. In fact, inside Saab, it has the codename 92.
   Where have I heard this one before? I know. Stefan Engeseth’s Detective Marketing, 2001 edition. And from what I understand, since in 1999 I could not read much Swedish, it featured in the original Swedish edition, too.
   While I am no fan of retro design, a modern one that has strong inspiration from Saab’s roots could go down well with the market—especially if the new 9-1 model had some advanced, non-fossil-fuel powertrains.
   A car tied to Saab’s roots as an airplane manufacturer could reinvigorate passion for the brand in the same way as the Jaguar mascot unveiling under John Egan in the 1980s. And new boss Victor Muller, CEO of Spyker, has wasted no time getting Saab loyalists excited about the brand again. He has not set his sights on brand-new customers: he wants the old Saab buyers back.
   While it might have Opel underpinnings, it at least gets Saab into the European premium compact car game, one which GM denied it, probably due to overlap with its mainstream brands. It was an opportunity missed as BMW, Audi and others broke in to the compact and supermini game.
   I know at least one Swede who finds Muller’s promises exciting, and I sincerely hope to be proven wrong when I expressed doubts about bringing a 40,000-sales-per-year company back from the brink. Below is the announcement of Spyker finalizing its purchase (via Detective Marketing).

   When he talks about ‘DNA’, Muller really means brand: it will rediscover and redefine that brand and its entrepreneurial spirit, using it to fuel the corporate culture, and having that drive product quality, R&D and other functions. If he succeeds in reaching his 100,000-per-year goal, then we can say that brand loyalty was a huge driver.
   His first announcement alone has been praised, Saab’s 100-day plan gives distributors and loyalists some certainty, and the folks in this video actually look enthused—already this is not like a tired, Rover-style attempt at getting the company back on its feet, even if the annual sales’ figures are far worse than what the English company had prior to its collapse.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, design, leadership, marketing, Sweden | No Comments »


Toyota’s troubles stem from forgetting its principles

06.02.2010

I was surprised to learn that Toyota still has not issued a worldwide recall of its troublesome Prius NHW30 model, even though one had gone out in New Zealand.
   In layman’s terms, the brakes allegedly don’t work when you want them to. In more complex terms, the software has trouble distinguishing between different types of braking, and drivers may experience a delay in ‘pedal feel’.
   I was always a bit sceptical about the recalls over the unintended acceleration, given that the last time I heard those words, they were in relation to a falsified report from CBS’s 60 Minutes, a show known to me for making up stories (Killian memoranda, anyone?). Hearing them again, I thought it was just another excuse for the clumsy driving of a few individuals who couldn’t figure out where the accelerator was (which was what happened with Audi in the US). But it seems this matter has been around for a long time, and recalls were being done even last year.
   But the Prius matter, something that has not come under a global recall, appears more serious than carpets getting in the way, which is the problem behind the unintended acceleration complaints. AFP reports:

The Transport Ministry has received some 80 complaints in February about malfunctions in the brake system of the latest model of the flagship Prius, the Tokyo Shimbun reported without quoting sources.
   Five of them were actual crashes in which the drivers claimed the brakes did not work properly, the daily said, adding that the ministry would urge the company to launch an investigation.
   It was not possible to immediately confirm the report.

   Already Toyota has been berated by top management for going too far from its core principles by its honorary chairman, Shoichiro Toyoda. The company had been trying to sell big cars in China during the financial crisis, and spent a good part of the 2000s developing large pick-up trucks for the US market. Bloomberg reported last June that a meeting was called:

Shoichiro scolded the president [Katsuaki Watanabe] for being so anxious to boost sales and profits that he’d let Toyota emulate now bankrupt General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Toyota had become addicted to big, expensive cars and trucks and had forgotten the customers’ need to save money, Shoichiro said, according to the person’s account.

   In other words, Toyota’s culture has been suffering, and we all know what happens when sales’ volume and profit are pursued at the expense of quality or engineering. (Ask Mercedes-Benz.)
   Toyota may be an example where too many niches were created, simply to get consumers in the showrooms—and now that’s coming to bite it on the rear end. Having too many niches has one immediate drawback: consumers no longer understand the structure of the range. Is the small car the iQ, Ist, Vitz, Porte, Belta or Passo? Do I move from that to a Corolla, Auris, Blade, Corolla Rumion, Probox, Raum, RAV4 or wotsis?
   The mistakes are understandable in some ways. Toyota had to create more new models as attention spans shortened. While a car might be able to be presented as “new” for two years in the Japanese market 10 years ago, consumers expect something else within half a year. To fund this appetite, the company looked for ways to maximize profits in every market—with the US one fuelled by bigger and bigger vehicles. It had to take costs out of cars, especially with electronics (by combining as many functions on to one system as possible) and architecture—and it may be these areas where the Prius suffered.
   But no company can really afford to pursue too many niches—Mazda overextended itself in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as did Nissan in the early 1990s—when times are tough. Toyota should have forecast a downturn, as many business experts did. The question that the company needs to ask itself is: what made it so blind in the 2000s?
   Even ignoring the idea of unintended acceleration for now, Toyota ends the lunar year on a low. It will always have its diehard followers—there are many models not affected by these issues—but the company must refocus its brand for the New Year toward its traditional principles. There is every sign the company knows that, with Akio Toyoda, the founder’s grandson, now at the helm, and doing spot checks down on the production floor. (I’d rather Toyota have someone like that than a “celebrity CEO” who gives good press. The era of the celebrity boss is over for now.) It is simply a pity that the company did not get on to its mounting problems—there are claims that unintended acceleration reports began surfacing with Toyota’s Lexus ES model as early as 2004—sooner.
   Few buy a Toyota because the cars make one’s heart beat faster. They are a default choice for many people who want the simplest conveyance from A to B. Akio’s job has been reminding his own team of that, and reinstituting the ‘Toyota Way’ and kaizen, terms that many of us who went to business school during a certain era recall.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, technology, USA | 4 Comments »