Archive for December, 2010

The Big Ten Needs a Bigger Idea

December 14th, 2010

We’ve known for some time that the Big Ten Conference wasn’t great at either math or communications.  After all, for years this eleven-team conference has inexplicably continued to call itself “The Big Ten”, and they’re sticking with their name even though they’re about to add a twelfth team.  I can certainly understand wanting to maintain your brand name and brand equity, but when your brand name describes the composition of your product (like the number of teams composing the conference) and that composition changes, it seems to me that the name has to change as well.  Otherwise, you just look foolish, and while you’re maintaining your brand name, you’re diminishing your brand equity.

Well, the small minds at the Big Ten offices have done it again:  they’ve just launched a very uninspiring logo (above), and they’ve named the two divisions within the conference “Legends” and “Leaders”.  The logo will surely generate mostly yawns, while the division names are guaranteed to be met with hoots and hollers.  Most conferences use geographic terms–like “North” and “South” or “East” and “West”– to designate their divisions, but the Big Ten can’t because they chose not to organize their divisions on a geographic basis.

Admittedly, coming up with appropriate names that aren’t geographically-oriented is quite a challenge, but I’ll give it a whack.  Given that there are six teams in each division, how  about “Six of One” and “Half a Dozen of Another”?  No?  How about these division names:

  • “Abbott” and “Costello”
  • “Hall” and “Oates”
  • “Captain” and “Tennille”
  • “Yin” and “Yang”
  • “Mac” and “PC”
  • “PC” and “Non-PC”
  • “Rock” and “Roll”
  • “Run” and “Pass”
  • “Hut One” and “Hut Two”

While I’m at it, how about some new equity-preserving names for the conference itself that retain “Big” and “Ten” without being misleading:

  • “The Big Ten-Plus-Two”
  • “The Bigger-Than-Ten”
  • “The Big Greater-Than-or-Equal-to-Ten”
  • “The Big Tension”

Okay, maybe we’re not quite there yet. I’ll keep working on it, but in the meantime, I do have a tagline for them:

“The Big Ten:  12 on a 10-Scale”

Microsoft Needs to Be a Good Orange, Not a Bad Apple

December 9th, 2010

Perhaps the wisest words I’ve ever read about branding strategy are attributed to the late, great Jerry Garcia, who once said:  “The idea isn’t to make people think you’re the best at what you do; it’s to make them think you’re the only one who does what you do.”

If there’s one company on the planet that’s in sync with Mr. Garcia, it’s Apple. (Interestingly, the only other one that comes immediately to mind is Pixar, another company largely shaped by the DNA of Steve Jobs.)  And if there’s a company that doesn’t groove on Mr. Garcia’s vibe, it’s Microsoft.   In fact, Microsoft doesn’t even try to make you think they’re the best at what they do; rather, they’re trying to make you think they’re just like Apple.

But Microsoft will never be like Apple, any more than Bill Gates will ever be like Steve Jobs.  Let’s face it:  Jobs is cool; Gates is geeky.  Apple is cool; Microsoft is–well, it might not be geeky, but it certainly isn’t cool.  And that’s okay!

Sadly, as an article in the Chicago Tribune indicates, the new Microsoft stores are embarrassingly similar to Apple stores.  The problem isn’t that the stores aren’t nice; it’s that they aren’t original.  Since everyone knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Microsoft is simultaneously reinforcing that Apple is worthy of emulation while making itself  look like a plagiarizer.

Microsoft needs to get over its genius-envy and embrace the things that make it unique.  For example, it could position itself as “everyman” (in subtle contrast to Apple’s “snob”) by emphasizing:

  • The affordability of Windows-based products
  • Its support of the very popular Flash media format
  • The dramatically larger number of products and programs that use its operating system

When Toyota was at its peak, it didn’t try to make you think it was like Mercedes Benz, nor did Budweiser in its best days try to make you think it was like Heineken. They took pride in who they were–and, oh, by the way, they were the market leaders.

Microsoft is also a market leader, yet its actions reflect insecurity rather than pride. Apple and Microsoft are as different as apples and oranges.  It’s time Microsoft embraced that fact.

After all, oranges are more popular than apples.