During the dotcom bubble of the late 90’s, I worked as a creative director in a division of a marketing firm that specialized in startups. This startup division was created not just because there was a lot of VC money in Silicon Valley, but also because there was a lot of VC money in Silicon Valley.
We had a pretty good process in place to position each new company, create their identity, and execute the basic deliverables that would be needed for their introduction to their public. I met a lot of brilliant people and saw a lot of innovative products during that era, and they all seemed like winners. Just ask them.
Most were new to the branding process, some were intellectually curious about it while others required a sort of intervention. The hardest part about our jobs back then was to navigate a path from the positioning phase all the way through the creative execution phase in less time than it took for the company to reinvent itself. After all, the culture in Silicon Valley rewarded the ADD savant who could stay in front of the others. And so, with varying degrees of fidelity to our process, we helped as many startups as we could set sail.
The engagements were never long, they weren’t meant to be. The idea was that they had the building blocks to launch and the blueprints to continue building their brand equity as their internal infrastructure grew. But it rarely happened that way. When I would revisit these company sites a few months later, most had changed their message, or their identity, or everything. It’s not that their products were different, they just became bored and impatient with the same graphics and messages. It wasn’t in their culture to stand still in that way. And every few months they would make more changes to their brand and message, further fragmenting them into obscurity with no brand equity in the bank.
I don’t remember most of the names of the companies we worked with back then, except for one from 1996: eBay. They didn’t stand out at the time, but culturally they were very compatible with the idea of faithful execution. I was even the idiot in one of our initial meetings who asked if they were considering changing their name because it seemed odd and meaningless, and this would be the best time to do it. They said they didn’t want to do anything that would alienate their “nearly 100,000 users.”
After their brand launched, they became a study in faithful execution. The brand was tightly controlled from the top down, and became hardwired to the corporate culture. By 2005 they became one of the 50 most recognizable brands in the world, which is considered a meteoric rise. And after 15 years, the familiar multi-colored, overlapping letters of the eBay logo were replaced by an updated version which reflects their journey from a quirky internet startup to a bluechip giant.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was the brand that gets the credit for their success. But if you’re poised for success on all other fronts, your brand can either be another sheet in the wind or an anchor you drag behind. And yes, they got sick of it at some point. We all did. But once you reach the point where you can see the value that brand equity creates, you get over it fast.