Lubor Ptacek wrote and excellent piece today on the different approaches to branding strategy and why it sometimes makes sense to re-brand after an acquisition. I agree with everything he said and it is so reasonable it makes you wonder – why would there be so much angst when it happens. In my experience, negative reaction to post acquisition re-branding often comes from a loss of something personal rather than any real business reason.
Personal Investment In A Brand
Companies spend and incredible amount of time and money in the software industry building communities around their products. They might not always call them that but the developer groups, certifications and logo programs do more than brand a product. They extend outside the company and provide a brand for the community at large.
Lubor’s explanation of branding using the auto market is a spot on but it doesn’t take into account the level of personal investment required to become an expert in technology that is not easily transferable to a different platform. Changing an oil filter is pretty much the same across brands. Extending a content management system is not. When the core brand changes, even if the technology remains the same, the individual developer loses a degree of marketability.
It is more than just a resume update. You cannot simply search and replace the brand. In the minds of recruiters and hiring managers barely familiar with the platforms they are hiring for Open Text = Open Text. The fact that it is portal or Livelink or PC Docs is lost. I am not picking on Open Text here. ALL of the vendors have this problem. IBM = IBM even though FileNet is not Content Manager. EMC =EMC even when Documentum and AX are different technology stacks.
The ugly truth is that the developer community needs are secondary to the customers where branding is concerned. It is most important that the buyers understand. Still developers are the ones that often recommend the products and it is important to understand how the name changes affect their ability to sell themselves.
I have said before content management people are needy. Maybe we have self-esteem issues because people give databases more respect but there is an emotional attachment to the work that we do that often clouds our judgment. This is really true across technology but I have been in many arguments over ECM that spiral into debate that sounded much more like religion than business.
It is completely irrational to be emotionally attached to software. It doesn’t matter how many late nights you spent trying to figure out the right JVM setting to keep this service pack of that product from crashing under the right conditions. It is just software.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is no one who is more passionate about ECM than I am. I know that solving this problem for a business has amazing benefits but I try not to think of the return on investment only in terms of dollars. If Jane in accounting can finish her work and leave on time to get to her son’s soccer game – believe it or not ECM can help make that happen. ECM technology can help keep planes in the air and capture terrorists. It is important.
Sometimes though we lose site of why we do it and focus too much on what we call it. We assign our emotional investment inappropriately to the label not the labor. Labels like product brands are superficial tools to help people categorize and communicate. They are not the substance of the thing.
Branding is important. Bad branding decisions can confuse the market and supporting community so it must be done with care. Poorly conceived and executed branding changes can drive developers and users alike crazy
When your company makes a change – make sure you focus on what really matters.
At the end of the day I don’t care what you call it – I just want it to work.