Friday, February 12, 2010

Protect Your Brand From Yourself

Google. Apple. Toyota. These strong brands have suffered some powerful blows in the past few months. Business and marketing pundits much smarter than I have offered explanations of what went wrong, but here are a few thoughts I've taken away:
  • Don't forget who brought you to the party (aka don't forget the strengths that differentiate you). Google grew into the giant it is by creating powerful tools with simple, user-friendly interfaces. Then came the confusing Wave, and the jury's still out on Buzz. Both applications seemed to have great potential in Google's introductory presentations. However once you start using these tools, filling them with content and conversation, they become cluttered and complicated. Simplicity is what differentiated Google from its competitors in the beginning, and I can't help but be disappointed that this trait hasn't carried over into its newer products.
    Higher ed takeaway: Don't get so caught up in new trends and ideas that you forget your core strengths.
  • Don't forget the power of a name. The hype over Apple's newest device included speculation over names: iTablet, iSlate, etc. So what were they thinking when they developed the unfortunate name, iPad? No one needed to be reminded of that bad MadTV sketch. (You would think that Apple's research could have at least caught that tidbit, even if their focus groups were too embarrassed to say so.)
    Higher ed takeaway: Try to find fault with advertising taglines and brand messages before someone else does. Take them out of context, and don't be afraid to look them up in the Urban Dictionary.
  • Don't get caught up in your own press. Toyota's reputation for reliable cars was a hallmark of its brand, but two major recalls have required them to shut down production to address the problem. Did Toyota get complacent? No one is immune from mistakes, no matter how good they are.
    Higher ed takeaway: Be humble, and like Toyota, don't be afraid to apologize when necessary.


  1. Davina, I'm sure Apple didn't do focus groups on "iPad." At the very least, this is an argument for the power of how important diversity is in small-group decisionmaking and how having people with different experiences, backgrounds, ages and genders making decisions can help to avoid this sort of mishap. As far as Toyota is concerned, it's hard to tell if this is corporate malfeasance or a lack of transparency. Funny how I'm willing to give Toyota the benefit of the doubt, which means that to me, it's less evil than other corporations. Their PR must have had some affect....

  2. Toyota has had quality problems with a string of new models for the past several years, but have ridden the coat tails of their past reputation. It finally became too big not to notice.

    My higher ed takeaway to that: Pay attention to the quality and relevance of your programs, faculty, facilities, etc. and make corrections before it's too late. Reputation will start to fade if you're not keeping up with expectations.

  3. Davina, we've been thinking in parallel -- at least as far as Toyota and Google are concerned. Google's biggest problem is that of brand extension (see Immutable Law of Branding No. 10) and of trying to compete with Facebook and Twitter. (As I pointed out in a recent post, the company is becoming the next Microsoft, while Toyota until recently was acting like General Motors. Toyota's biggest problems were hubris and bungled crisis communications, but perhaps they've been brought down a notch or two through this.)

  4. Thanks guys for the interesting thoughts. Seminar yesterday by Tom Hayes at the CASE III conference reminded me of some of your comments-how expectations rise when competitors offer new things, and how doing the same thing results in lower satisfaction, even if it worked before.