Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Brand Dissection Lab: Apples, Scalpels and Hollow Frogs

Remember what you did to that poor frog in high-school biology? Well, get your scalpel ready, because today we’re going to do it to a couple of well-known brands.

Why? Because I want you to see how what’s inside a brand (its strategic communications platform) determines how it appears on the outside (its “persona”).

Here I’ve got two specimens laid out on the table. First is the most admired (and overly analyzed) brand of the last three decades. We’re going to slice directly into the epidermis of Apple’s advertising.

(BTW: Today we’re just taking a quick peek. We plan cut deep into many such frogs in the future.)

Lets go back 29 years, to the most famous teaser ad of all time—“1984.”

Ready? Scalpel! Now pull back the skin of this ad and . . . what do you see? Why, the very tools that live in the top drawer of our brand toolbox:

Look, there’s the mission—to change the way humans relate to technology. And hey, there’s one of their core values: iconoclasm. And just to the side, the brand position: user-centric design—technology for regular people (in fact, their tagline at launch was “The computer for the rest of us”).

Now, let’s cut open another Apple classic from 13 years later, “Think Different”:

This is a “manifesto-style” corporate ad, but slice in and . . . look! Iconoclast! And the value proposition: Apple's makes technology for bold, creative-minded people. And Apple's world-changing mission, writ large. Once again, the exterior creative expression (the ad) is a clear reflection of what’s in the top drawer of the toolbox (the strategic communications platform).

Now, surely you remember these from 2006-2009:

Whether you loved the ads (Mac fans) or thought Mr. Mac was a smug hipster twerp (everyone else), you saw all the top-drawer branding elements. Iconoclasm? Check. Regular-guy humanity? Check. User centric design? Creative-focused value proposition? Checkeroo.

Which brings us to Apple's latest:

Okay, let’s agree it’s creatively well below the high standard Apple has set for itself. In fact, as 9 out of 10 bloggers agree, it sucks—("This is it . . "?!). But we’re not judging creative quality today.

Get out your check list. Mission? “. . . every idea we touch enhances each life . . .” Core values: “. . . a thousand no’s . . .”  Position: “This is what matters. The experience of a product.”

It’s all there and it’s always been. It’s why Apple always looks, sounds and behaves like Apple. (Even when the ad sucks.) It yields a consistent persona you recognize and relate to.

Now, for our other frog: HP.

Their communications have been creatively and strategically all over the place, but let's choose one recent manifesto-like corporate ad from their NY-based US agency.

In case you fell asleep, here’s a transcript: 
It’s something you’re born with and lives inside you. Inspires the things you choose to do. Things that may not always change the world in a big way but can change it in a million little ways. You do what you do because it matters. At HP, we don’t just believe in the power of technology. We believe in the power of people, when technology works for you. To do the things that matter. To dream. To learn. To create. To work. If you’re going to do something, make it matter. 
The tone may be borrowed from Apple. But here’s a plot summary: “When products work, you can do your job.” I'll resist the temptation to be snarky and instead borrow a judgement from Gertrude Stein: There is no “there” there.

Probing with my gloved hand, I could find none of the vital organs: No core values, except maybe believing vaguely in the power of people. Misson? Position?

It’s a hollow frog.

I found this hard to believe of so powerful a brand, so I went a-googling for the inside story. Jackpot: An elaborate case study prepared by their global branding agency, whom I will respectfully not identify.

They recognized that “the once iconic brand was deemed ‘dull’ and ‘lifeless’ by consumers and business customers alike.” This, they said, called for a “compelling vision”:
The first step in transforming HP was to define a strong, authentic story. A story that would embrace the proud heritage of a Silicon Valley pioneer but lean forward to the future. 
HP was founded on the belief that technology will improve people’s lives, and HP should always aspire for better. This founding principle was unearthed through co-creation workshops with the key stakeholders across the business groups, the HP Labs, product design and insight groups. 
The brand story was articulated as ‘Human Progress’, and symbolized by the ‘Progress mark’ [HP logo]. Whilst the brand mark itself is not in use, its concept directly informed the development of the Identity and Design System. The brand story was further expanded into character differentiators and behaviors to help deliver on it.
And then? They would execute this strategy by making sure the visual elements of their communications lean forward by 13 degrees.

I am not making this up. They created a "vision video": 

Now, can any of you tell me, even after exposure to their internal materials, what you would find in the top drawer of their toolbox? You can't, because the drawer is empty.

Between 2012 and 2013 HP dropped from #28 to #54 on Millward Brown’s list of the world’s most valuable brands.

And remaining securely at #1? Yep: Apple. 

Next time we'll pick up the first tool in the top toolbox drawer—one that almost everyone gets wrong.

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