Steve Jobs

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HP: How to (accidentally?) launch a new brand identity the right way


UPDATE 12/15/2011: HP has asked Moving Brands to take down the case study and rework it. From their website: “We have removed the HP case study per the request of HP, in order to clarify the distinction between the aspects of the work that were setting a creative vision for the brand but were not implemented in the market, and the aspects which reflect the actual in-market applications of the Identity and Design System. The ‘Progress mark’ logo is not the go-forward direction for HP.” (Guess this answers a few of the questions I raised below:)

UPDATE 12/16/2011: Moving Brands has apparently been asked to take the videos down by HP as well, so the embedded videos below no longer work. Sorry, folks. What a shame to see such good work get wiped off the map.

There’s some craziness going on in the branding world today. As reported on UnderConsideration, TechCrunch, and Design Week, a new brand identity for HP, one of the largest and most powerful brands there is, has just been unveiled to the world.

But from what I can tell, HP didn’t do the unveiling.

Instead, the new brand identity was showcased as a case study on the website of Moving Brands, the lead agency hired by HP to work on the creative vision for the HP brand, a project that began in 2008. Not only is the final work product fantastic, but the process the team went through to design the identity was also incredibly smart and current.

Here’s a short video from the Moving Brands website that showcases the new identity:

To me, this is a really wonderful example of thoughtful identity work done right. The UnderConsideration article in particular does a nice job of breaking down the process they used. Or watch this video from the case study that shows how the process worked from the inside:

If you’ve been following tech news, you may have seen that HP, which has been a wee bit shaky in the leadership department over the past few years, in September hired former eBay CEO Meg Whitman to take over the top leadership spot after the very short tenure of Leo Apotheker.

One can only speculate if, with the changing of the guard, this project was cancelled or moved to the back burner (TechCrunch calls it “The Radical HP Rebranding That Never Was”), but an agency revealing a company’s new identity to the world on its behalf is something I’ve never witnessed before.

An agency gone rogue or a carefully scripted unofficial test of the new identity? Hmm…

One way or another, I must say that after suffering through the last couple of years of major brand identity launch flubs like The Gap and Tropicana, whether on purpose or not, this identity rollout (as weird as it may sound) feels perfect to me.

Why?

Because it is so different than the old skool agency “Big Reveal” of a new identity (“Look what’s behind this curtain! It’s a shiny new logo!”).

I hate the Big Reveal.

First off, the Big Reveal smacks of agency arrogance. Our agency geniuses have gone behind closed doors, deeply breathed in the raw sewage of your current brand… and what has emerged? Why these beautiful, fresh, sweet-smelling brand flowers (and we threw in a spiffy new font for you too… just because we could!).

Second, the Big Reveal always implies a product that is already finished when people first get to see it. Even the patron saint of brand identity Paul Rand was famous for presenting his designs as “take it or leave it.” IBM took it, as did UPS. Steve Jobs did too, after getting put in his place by Rand.

This way of revealing brand identity may have worked in the past, but it faces some very real challenges today in a world driven by social media. The new Gap logo was revealed to the Gap brand community the old way and then quickly rejected through the power of the combined community voice on blogs and social media networks. It never stood a chance.

We will see this kind of community-driven brand influence more and more over the coming years as the communities that surround brands gain more and more power over their direction, and the companies that own them can control less and less.

Which is why I like how this new HP logo came out, whether the company meant for it to happen this way or not. Rather than inflicting a new logo on us that we’ve never seen before as a done deal, we were presented—informally—not just a logo, but the entire story of how the identity got to this point, transparently, openly, and, most importantly, before the decision had been made.

I love when brands are built collaboratively with the people who care most about the brand, both inside and outside the company. By being revealed informally while still a work in progress, this new HP identity feels to me like the beginning of an open conversation with the HP brand community.

Who knows whether HP will stifle that conversation, ignore it, or become an active participant. Only time will tell.

But I have to hand it to the folks at Moving Brands who led the process. This is either a clever way to get some feedback for their client and start a dialog before a bigger commitment is made or it is a ballsy attempt to win over the HP brand community with high-quality work and then enlist the community’s help to force HP not to abandon the project.

Either way, I love it. It’s great design work and a pitch-perfect roll out strategy for the times.

Let’s see what happens next.

HP? Your move.

Why does brand positioning matter and what must change?


I believe almost all great brands are built on a foundation of great positioning.

I feel so strongly about positioning that one of the core elements of this blog is a series of brand positioning tips I learned over the years as an eager student of classic brand positioning.

Sometimes great positioning is led by a branding genius such as Scott Bedbury (who helped grow the Nike and Starbucks brands); sometimes a great leader and communicator with a very clear vision (like Steve Jobs at Apple) drives it into the organization; sometimes people stumble on great positioning by pure luck; and more and more often, organizations are developing positioning by collaborating with the communities of people in and around the organization who care most passionately about the brand.

This last way is the ad-free brand way of developing brand positioning.

Why does great positioning matter? In my view, there are four key reasons brands should care about positioning.

1. Great positioning helps people understand the brand

The best brand positioning is always simple and clear. The greatest product or organization in the world won’t be successful if people can’t or don’t bother to comprehend why they should care about it. Your story must be able to break through the clutter.

2. Great positioning helps people value the brand

Getting people to understand the brand is the first step, but no less important is ensuring they value the brand. The best brands stand for things people care about or desire.

3. Great positioning helps people identify with the brand

Once people understand and value the brand, they must also understand how they fit in and how they can engage with the brand. They need to see some of themselves in it.

4. Great brand positioning helps people take ownership over the brand

It may sound like a brand’s worst nightmare to lose control and have the brand community take over. But the most self-actualized brands of the twenty-first century allow the communities of people surrounding them to take some ownership of and responsibility for the brand. Essentially, the brand owners become in command and out of control of the brand.

In 1981, when Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (the book that really defined the discipline of brand positioning) traditional advertising was still a dominant force. In fact, as you glance through their book, you’ll notice that most of the examples they use to illustrate positioning concepts are classic advertisements or advertising campaigns like the Avis “We’re #2, so we try harder” or the 7-Up “Uncola” campaign.

In the book, Trout and Ries define positioning as follows:

“…positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”

The Trout and Ries definition is a perfect way to achieve the first three of the four benefits above; it helps people understand, value, and identify with the brand.

Where the Trout and Ries model of positioning is all about what you do to the mind of the prospect, ad-free brands are less interested in creating meaning for a brand in people’s minds and more interested in creating meaning for a brand with the help of people’s minds.

By giving the communities of people who care about a brand some ownership over its future direction, we begin to build relationships based on trust, respect, and a mutual exchange of value.

Where 21st century brands will really shine is by mimicking the open, collaborative, meritocratic model of the open source software movement (and the Internet itself) in their positioning work. In my view, without beginning to engage the communities of people who care about a brand as co-owners, classic brand positioning by itself will continue to be less and less effective as traditional advertising and PR continue to be less and less effective.

The secret? Marrying those classic brand positioning principles to a 21st century way of collaborating with the communities of people who care about a brand. By doing both together, we’ll be able to build stronger, more resilient brands than ever before.

This is the second in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand, which is available now.

User-led innovation can’t create breakthroughs. Really?


Earlier this week, Fast Company posted an article by Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen (thanks to Gunnar Hellekson for sending it my way) that may be of interest to folks seeing success with their open source and open innovation efforts.

The article is entitled “User-Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs; Just Ask Apple and IKEA” and here’s how it starts:

Companies should lead their users, not the other way around.

The user is king. It’s a phrase that’s repeated over and over again as a mantra: Companies must become user-centric. But there’s a problem: It doesn’t work. Here’s the truth: Great brands lead users, not the other way around.

Jens and Rasmus aren’t the first to preach this sermon, Henry Ford (apocryphally, at least) had a go at it about 100 years ago. And Steve Jobs has famously used Henry Ford’s “faster horse” quote to describe Apple’s philosophy about market research for years.

To make their case, Jens and Rasmus use Apple and IKEA as case studies of brands that have done very well by not listening to their users, and in the article they document conversations with insiders at each company.

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Do you have 10,000 hours in yet? The 21st century is waiting…


mozart

Baby Mozart sez I got my 10,000 hours of practice in before I was five years old, suckers!

Finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers. I’m late to the game on this one, so I’ll skip the full review and instead point to some good summaries about the book here, here, and here. I have other fun stuff I want to cover today.

For me, this book was his best yet. Gladwell’s gift is he is an amazing storyteller, and in this book he once again takes semi-boring academic research and makes it deeply relevant and interesting by crafting a beautiful story around it.

Here’s a short synopsis of Outliers. I decided to write it in the form of a limerick. I have no idea why.

Some folks become world-class Outliers,

Achieving success we can’t help but admire,

But smarts and ambition,

Aren’t the only pre-conditions,

Great timing and practice are required.

Basically, Gladwell is saying you can be the smartest guy on Earth and achieve nothing worth mentioning. But incredible, world-class success (think Bill Gates, Mozart, the Beatles) is a mashup of being born at the right time in the right place to the right people with the right genetic makeup while having the right things occur to you at exactly the right times in your life.

Oh, and you need to get in 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at your craft.

This last concept really got to me. The idea that in order to become an expert in your field, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice has been covered extensively. In fact there are two other books out describing the research behind this assertion, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

Hearing the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs stories of perfect timing and early practice in Gladwell’s book started me thinking about a few things.

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Cutting cubes out of clouds: The Designful Company


Promised a while back that I’d write a review of Marty Neumeier’s new book The Designful Company once i’d finished it, so here goes.

designfulcompany1As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of Neumeier’s work– especially The Brand Gap, which has been a key bit of inspiration for the Brand Communications + Design group at Red Hat. The Designful Company is subtitled “How to build a culture of nonstop innovation,” and there are some pretty great ideas within on how to do exactly that.

It is clear that Neumeier is well read and well traveled in the right circles. He draws upon ideas from many current innovation thought leaders, including Gary Hamel, Roger Martin, Sam Lucente, Steve Jobs, and more. In fact, the recommended reading list in the back of the book is worth the price of the book itself.

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Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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