Branding in Silicon Valley

quick summary:

Three brands: Ebay, Adobe and Google. All of them are success stories from the era. But none of them seem to have more than a rough idea about how to build a brand. Some of them are learning. Well, ok, not Google.

full text:

EBay was until recently the worst offender in matters of brand building and it still misbehaves pretty extravagantly. It’s most important interface with the consumer was a webpage that looked until very recently like a dog’s breakfast. There was too much information, arranged with scant regard for clarity or ease of access. Good design and the exercise of brand intelligence doesn’t cost very much. Ebay has been spinning revenue. Was there really no money to sort this out?

Recently, Ebay went through a redesign. It is a little better. But it is still resembles the bulletin board of a community centre more than the future of the market place. This business is now almost 10 years old. It has nearly 6,000 employees. It is run by a woman who graduated from one of the great marketing academies of our time: P&G. When does Ebay step up?


Today I had the very pleasant surprise of opening a PDF file that did not oblige me to spend 10 seconds looking at a self congratulatory splash page from Adobe. Ten seconds is a long time these days, especially when it’s obligatory. We can’t get to the Adobe software until they are through blowing their own horn. And, really, do I need to know the names of all the team members? Unless Adobe is chosen to pay these people in recognition, I think we will just assume that they are marvellous and hard working, and leave it at that.

This is interstellar stupidity. Adobe found a way to use a moment of interaction with the consumer to piss them off. This is the opposite of brand building. This is brand destruction. People are going to do something with those 10 seconds, and most of us use it to think, “who the **** do they think they are?”

So, if they have put this right, good on them. Let us hope they will move on with the rest of the suite of software.


There was a note today from Lance Ulanoff called “Is Gmail safe?” Lance says:

“Individuals, public advocacy groups and even states are nearly apoplectic over the fact that Google’s completely automated technology will be “reading” mail received in its still-in-beta Gmail free e-mail service.”

Is anyone surprised by this? Google won the search engine game larging by being the most elegant solution to the problem. They were not just the fastest in retrieve times. They were “fastest” in terms of conceptual clarity. We went to the Google home page and we knew just where we where and what to do. (Compare this to the double dog’s breakfast that Yahoo remains.) Google was a compelling brand proposition because it was exactly what we wanted in the form that made it most accessible in every sense of the word.

And now Google is going to read our email. At a stroke they have taken an almost pristine brand and surrounded it with a shadow of doubt. Sure, sure, we don’t really have to worry about privacy. That, from a branding point of view, is not the point. The point is always “who do we think they are?” With Google, that used to be clear. Now it’s not.

Will this make a difference to Google image and brand image? Of course it will. But there are more troubling problems. It raises the possibility that when Google went looking for a way to monitize their opportunity, to build a business model, to capture some of the value they have been creating, they did not have wit enough to factor in what the Gmail option would cost them in terms of the brand equity they were now trying to leverage. This truly is sawing off the limb on which you stand. The further question is: will the markets punish them? When is the Google public offering anyway? I believe some analysts will look at the Gmail option as a reckless spend of the thing they had hoped to buy.

The article by Lance Ulanoff is from PC Magazine Online and it may be found here.