Dept. of Cold, Hard, Truth: Branding is bullshit.

Nobody gives a rat’s ass about your brand.

So HP may or may not be getting a new logo. This is a complete waste of their time. What HP should do to make people care about them is simple: Return to making innovative products that people love, like they did in the 80s and early 90s. They chose not to be that company anymore at some point, and became an also-ran in a field of equally competent printer and PC vendors. Oh, and they do IT outsourcing, which goes about as well as you’d expect, and their fortunes are fading as a result.

So now they’re spending money on a new logo to fix it? That’s sure as shit going to do one thing: line the pockets of starry-eyed marketing and branding people only too happy to cash their checks. It’ll also be nice for the printing companies who do HP’s cards, and the signmakers who do the buildings, but it won’t make one fucking iota of difference to any actual customer, because brand equity is built on experience with the company, not a snazzy Illustrator file and new color palette.

This is very, very close to something people are noticing about magazine treatments on the iPad. Briefly, the Conde Nast or whomever marketers in charge of the interface for Newsstand placement or custom apps are all mad for fancy splash screens that show off the magazine’s logo. And no reader has ever cared about that. They want the content. Popping up a splash screen that eats 2 or 3 seconds every time the user wants to resume reading your magazine says “we care more about Branding than we do about you the customer,” and see above in the value of branding. In this case, aggressive logo displays are DEFINITELY having an effect on how people view the company, but it’s not the effect the crystalgazing marketdroids had in mind.

Branding is to corporate America as fad diets are to those of us fighting the battle of the bulge: a waste, ultimately. To lose weight and be healthy, all you really need to do is move your feet more than your fork. It’s a lifestyle change, not a thing you do once. You can dress it up (more veggies! less meat! more cardio! add yoga!), but that’s it at its most basic point. Switching to an all-lentils-and-spinach diet for six weeks isn’t going to create lasting value or change.

The corporate equivalent of “move your feet more than your fork” is almost as simple: Make good, reliable products that people like. Make sure that, when people have a problem with your product, you take care of them within reason.

That’s it. That’s who HP used to be, but are not anymore. That’s who Apple is now, obviously. That’s who Sony used to be, but aren’t anymore. It’s who Zappos and Amazon are, at least most of the time.

Just like weight loss, there is no silver bullet. You have to do the hard work of actually BEING a good company for people to view you as a good company. Paying a bunch of graphic designers and Flash programmers to rebrand your website is a waste of time if you’re not making real commitments to quality and customer satisfaction — and may still be a waste of time even if you are. Worse, fancy re-branding efforts come off as smoke and mirrors designed to distract customers and investors even if they’re not (and, let’s be honest, frequently they ARE). So skip them.

Do good work.

Make your customers happy.

The brand will follow.

2 thoughts on “Dept. of Cold, Hard, Truth: Branding is bullshit.

  1. I’m really not sure how you could be more right about this, and yet you never see this set of observations laid out anywhere.

    I’ve been trying to make this point for as long as I can remember, and that’s coming from a guy who makes his meager living in the sign business. If it weren’t for owner ego and vanity, I don’t know that we’d ever get anything sold around here.

    It is infinitely easier to agonize over whether the blue logo element on your sign should be Pantone 334 or Pantone 335 than to ascertain why nobody is buying your crap. I have seen people convince themselves that getting a logo color “wrong” could actually cause substantial harm to their company. Compared to Doing Good Work and Making Your Customers Happy, such neurotic hand wringing is easy.

    And it makes the marketing department or ad agency look busy.

  2. Well, let me be clear: I do think having a good logo and proper signage and well-printed business cards is important. But that’s just basic business.

    What I’m railing against is the superprecious pursuit of “re-branding” or “corporate branding” as a thing unto itself. That’s where the shit starts to smell.

    Also, glad you’re here.