Recently the Google Corporation announced their biggest rebranding since their company began 16-years ago, complete with two new logos, a full name logo rebrand and a rebranded ‘G’ logo in four colors (in addition to a rebranded Google+ logo).
A more conservative corporation might have been too gun-shy to do such a thing. After all, Google is the second most valuable brand in the world (behind Apple). As the old saying goes, if it isn’t broke, why fix it?If it isn't broke, why fix it?Click To Tweet
Anyone involved in maintenance of critical technologies and platforms, however, can tell you that waiting for something to break before fixing it is about the worst advice you could ever take to heart. Would the Air Force wait for one of their planes to fall out of the sky before performing maintenance? Would NASA wait for the International Space Station to break apart in orbit before replacing any component that showed the slightest sign of deterioration? Of course not. The potential loss of life and equipment from such a strategy would be unacceptable.
Google, as a company, is barely a decade out from being a young startup, having gone public on the stock market in 2004. In that time they’ve toppled or seriously wounded some seemingly unbeatable giants of the technology world, including the once ‘Monopolistic’ Microsoft.
Microsoft was once a young startup themselves, challenging and overthrowing established giants like IBM. Losing that startup mentality, unless carefully preserved, is an inevitability. Mature companies often fall into a defensive posture, becoming more focused on preserving established markets where they’re already dominant than in risking their success trying to break into new markets.
Reinventing the brand can easily take a back seat to preserving the brand identity at all costs, risking only very slight changes at most lest they risk the fear of losing what they’ve already built. The result, unfortunately, is that eventually the brand becomes stale, and the company loses its innovative spirit. Where once their only risk was never to succeed, eventually they become overly focused on what they could now lose.Brands that don't evolve become stale. #BrandingClick To Tweet
To be fair, it would be reckless and irresponsible for a mature corporation to roll the dice and gamble their entire future on an uncertain bet, as a startup trying to disrupt established markets must occasionally do, so what’s the solution to this ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’?
As the band 38 Special succinctly explained in their breakthrough hit,
“Just hold on loosely, But don’t let go
If you cling too tightly, You’re gonna lose control”
Don’t try to control everything with a tight fist. Taking ‘Bet the company’ risks may be off the table, but cultivating an atmosphere of bold yet manageable risk-taking will help to keep your brand relevant and help you avoid disruptive forces or respond quickly when they arise unexpectedly.
One way that Google achieves this is by rewarding failure. Yes, you heard that right, Google rewards failures, at least when they occur in the course of one of Google X’s ‘Moonshot’ Projects, which are aimed specifically at changing the world and disrupting established markets or creating new ones.Why does Google reward failure? #BrandingClick To Tweet
As Google’s ‘Head of Moonshots’ Astro Teller explains, “If you shame [your employees] when they come back, if you tell them that they’ve failed you because they didn’t find a mountain, no matter how diligently they looked for or how cleverly they looked for it, those scouts will quit your company.” It is this very approach which helps “The Chocolate Factory” (as some people call it) attract and retain some of the best talent in the industry.
Rebranding isn’t quite the same thing as a Moonshot, but the risk of failure is just as great. The Coca Cola Corporation learned this when they attempted to rebrand with New Coke, which even Bill Cosby couldn’t salvage, but even in failure they succeeded in a way. The very attempt created stronger demand for the Classic brand and product. Today they remain one of the most valuable brands on the planet and Coca Cola Classic one of the most popular and well known products in history.
Google experienced a similar branding failure with their ‘Google+ Everywhere’ strategy, and like Coca Cola, this has had the ironic effect of strengthening the core brand. For example, Hangouts and Google Photos have both grown in popularity and acclaim since being deintegrated and made standalone products, and the deintegration of YouTube from Google+ Comments has been widely celebrated.
Yet, despite being largely a failure, the attempt nonetheless taught Google valuable lessons about branding, and about how to build better and more successful products in the future. Even Google+ itself has received more positive press attention as a standalone Interest Network than it ever received as a hub for all things Googly.
Compared to the ‘Plusification’ of Google, their new rebranding could almost be called conservative, and (again by comparison) the reaction to it has been almost muted, but it has nonetheless evoked strong reactions. Google will win either way, however, since people will either accept the change and view the brand more positively as a result, or will revolt and strengthen demand to bring back the classic brand.
So, if one of the world’s most valuable brands is willing to take these risks, why is your brand clinging desperately to a fixed identity? Change can be frightening, especially for a small business, but that which doesn’t change doesn’t evolve, and that which doesn’t evolve will eventually be out competed by more nimble rivals.
If you don’t want to risk becoming a Dodo of the business world, consider the lessons of Google and Coca Cola. Take calculated risks, be willing to reward rather than punish failure when you do, but always be prepared to bring back the Classic brand by popular demand if necessary.
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