Archive for May, 2007

A new plank for the Google brand platform

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Google has been building out its brand platform by adding one strategic plank after another. The latest deals with Web trust and security.

Building trust for the Google brand

Google understands that because a large part of its brand is centered on the Web and Web applications, its long-term success depends on a Web that is generally safe, and trustworthy. A Web that’s rife with deceptions and insecurities could seriously undermine the Google brand, and Google’s business.

Of course, on the wide-open Web there’s only so much oversight that Google—or any company—can manage. But every bit it can accomplish adds to its brand integrity, and to its long-term brand equity. When you and I feel “safe” within the Google ambiance, the Google brand is working.

The new platform plank: security

This week Google introduced its Online Security Blog to solicit discussion and feedback on its latest steps in helping users protect themselves online. This is a vital plank in the Google brand platform. Google has to demonstrate some control over various Web threats if it expects businesses and individuals to leave the (relative) security of their desktops and embrace online Google Apps, one of Google’s main challenges to Microsoft. In the first blog entry Google reveals some of its initiatives against malware sites that can steal sensitive information from a user’s computer. Google already identifies possible malware sites in its search results.

Google’s security initiative is a way of building the Google brand by delivering value customers can use. That’s an approach I call value-based brands. It’s the real deal all the way through. Zero brand fluff.

I’d also guess that somewhere deep inside the Googleplex there’s a whiteboard with Google’s vision of a trusted Web. That vision would also be a vision of the Google brand, with the security plank a key part of it.

Building trust for Google’s AdSense

In a related move, Google is taking steps to clean up the “proxy” websites designed to game Google’s AdSense program. These sites are typically made up entirely of AdSense ads and no original content. While such sites can make money for their originators, and for Google’s AdSense program itself, they seriously clutter search results and offer a negative user experience. As Scott Karp notes, this is an example of Google giving up some “easy money” in favor of measures that can return more strategic AdSense revenue from a “healthier” and more quality-oriented Web.

Raising the brand bar

The Web is a big place. When you operate on the scale of Google, your brand platform will need lots of planks. Google’s latest actions signify that it’s scaling up its brand to support a very large business, with no shortage of platform components. It’s certainly raising the brand bar for Microsoft and Yahoo.

Photo: Incase Designs — Flickr

Methods for brand visualization

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Every brand builder needs visual methods to explain how a brand is architected, and how brand programs and platforms interact with the brand community.

The website Visual Literacy offers a very useful Periodic Table of Visualization Methods. You can mouse over dozens of visualization schemes for charts, diagrams, maps and metaphors. One or more might help you zero in on the kind of diagram or visual approach that fits your particular brand value stream.

For the big picture, of course, the stepping off point is still Hugh Dubberly’s masterful Concept Map of Brand.

Visualize what you do for the customer

Since brands are customer-centric by nature, the focus of any brand visualization should never be the brand itself. It’s the customer who belongs at the center of your brand diagram or schematic. Your brand is the enabling force that elevates the customer to richer forms of living. Brand platforms and programs only have value based on what they deliver to the customer. It’s this brand value stream, a dynamic (and transformative) process, that has to be illustrated. Otherwise, a brand is simply admiring itself in the mirror, static and alone.

NOTE: Added above paragraph on May 18, 2007

Visual Literacy ref thanks to: SensoryTumble

“Cocaine” is busted

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Brands are walking on thin ice when the experience they promise is mostly make believe. But some brands go beyond thin ice and try to walk on water, promising pure fiction to keep themselves afloat.

That’s the case with Cocaine, an “energy drink” brand I wrote about previously. Now the fiction has failed, and Cocaine has been deep-sixed from the market, under a tsunami of federal and state opposition.

Here’s the sordid tale. Below, a snippet:

“Cocaine” drink pulled from shelves nationwide

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut: An energy drink called Cocaine has been from pulled from stores nationwide amid concerns about its name, the company that produces it said Monday.

Clegg Ivey, a partner in Redux Beverages LLC of Las Vegas, said the company plans to sell the drink under a new name for now.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter last month that said Redux was illegally marketing the drink as a street drug alternative and a dietary supplement. May 4 was the deadline for the company to respond.

The FDA cited as evidence the drink’s labeling and Web site, which included the statements “Speed in a Can,” “Liquid Cocaine” and “Cocaine — Instant Rush.” The company says Cocaine contains no drugs and is marketed as an energy drink. It has been sold since last August in at least a dozen states.

One joke making the rounds is that the beverage might be renamed “Crack,” to salvage what’s left of the brand equity.

The problem with a shock brand like Cocaine is that you can’t execute on brand unless you want to face federal drug charges. The more you play with the shock value, cutting and re-cutting the metaphor, the more you string out your users (er, customers) with less and less.

It’s rarely the name that makes the brand

Truth is, it’s rarely the name itself that makes the brand. It’s usually the other way around: brand strategy, the brand experience and brand value delivered are what build the brand, and make the name memorable.

The brand name as creative platform

Too bad those pushing Cocaine didn’t envision their brand as a creative platform beyond the can. Had they done so, they might have selected a name that was low on shock, perhaps even stunningly bland and generic, but with oodles of creative potential. Name-wise, they might have come up with something far more scalable in a customer context, a name like, say, “vitamin water.”

Photo: Cocaine