Corporate Branding Enters the Debate

“What we maybe should’ve realized sooner was that we are running a political campaign and the candidate is Uber.”
Those are the words of Travis Kalanick, the rabble-rousing wunkerkind running Uber, the popular ride-sharing service. It captures the evolution in corporate branding and design in American business, a change that can be seen clearly in high-flying tech companies like Uber and AirBnB: more personal, socially aware and engaging. As the famous philosopher David Letterman once said, “Studies show that 3 out of 4 people make up 75% of the population.”
After almost two decades of taking a backseat to product brands, corporate branding is experiencing a resurgence. Branding for corporations has traditionally been focused on the investment and financial communities. Now consumers buy companies as much as products. They want to know what they stand for and that they can trust them.
For example, AirBnB was barely staying afloat six years ago. The concept was too new — no one trusted it. People thought, “Why would I rent my nice condo on Potrero Hill in San Francisco to some backpackers from Europe?”
Now AirBnB is a huge success with more than nine million people using the app, a service almost completely built on trust and company image. Their corporate branding evolved to reflect the core of their corporate identity based on “people, places, and love”.
In the tech world, Google’s brand was getting more unrecognizable than a celebrity after her seventh visit to the plastic surgeon. They got involved with everything from driverless cars to a global wireless service delivered by high-altitude balloons. What did the brand “Google” really stand for?
To help focus their individual brands, Google recently created a parent company called Alphabet. One of the benefits of the new structure is they will be able to create branding for each of their divisions as well as an overall corporate brand that can communicate their values and principles.
Even Microsoft, whose branding in the past seems to have been, “Wait until someone puts out something cool and we’ll copy it,” has also taken steps to communicate a more innovative image with renewed effort in areas such as cloud computing and mobile devices.
The overall theme and many of these changes is to place more emphasis on the values of the corporate brand, rather than the features of individual products and services. The shift is partly a reflection of a significant change in consumer expectations. Customers want to buy from brands that reflect their values. They avoid old, dusty brands that remind them of visiting their grandmother’s house with plastic covers on the living room furniture.
The emphasis on values and principles is affecting corporate design. Southwest Airlines created a new heart logo they say is designed to reflect their love for their customers and employees as well as emphasize their legendary customer service. This resonates better than many airline brands that effectively say, “You’ll arrive late, exhausted and hungry.”
You might say the trend in corporate branding shows that companies are campaigning for business by taking a more proactive approach to their operations, communications, relationships and worldview. The old ways don’t work — consider the words of maverick T-Mobile CEO John Leger who is making waves in the wireless industry: “What a stupid, broken, arrogant industry.” Consumers want to buy from smart, engaging modern brands they can trust.

Corporate Branding Enters the Debate