Showing posts from 2012

HSBC = Hella Serious Brand Contusion

Another banking scandal unfolds, courtesy of

The global bankHSBChas been used by Mexican drug cartels looking to get cash back into the United States, by Saudi Arabian banks that needed access to dollars despite their terrorist ties, and by Iranians who wanted to circumvent United States sanctions.

What's astonishing, especially in light of the recent unapologetic testimony by bankers such as Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase and Barclay's Robert Diamond is this statement by the bank:

The company said in a statement on Monday that “we will apologize, acknowledge these mistakes, answer for our actions and give our absolute commitment to fixing what went wrong.”

But Senator Carl Levin, who leads the banking subcommittee, was not impressed. 

“While the bank is saying all the right things, and that is fine, it has said all the right things before,” he said.

Clearly, HSBC's brand is severely damaged in the eyes of the senator, but what about it's customers? Recent banki…

Brand Refresh: A Point Well-taken for WellPoint?

According to Ben Protess of

WellPoint, one of the country’s largest health insurers, has agreed to buy Amerigroup in a bid to bolster its Medicaid business as the industry undergoes an overhaul....“We believe that this combination will create an industry leader in the government sector serving Medicaid and Medicare enrollees,” Angela F. Braly, the chief executive of WellPoint, said in the statement. “This is an opportunity to capitalize on the strengths of both companies to better serve our members and position our companies for future growth as the health insurance industry changes,” she added.

An opportunity in many ways, not just in the business sense, but also in the branding sense. WellPoint has been on an acquisition tear under Braly's leadership, scooping up 1-800 Contacts, a contact lens direct retailer, as well as CareMore, a provider of managed care for the elderly (a company we pitched several years ago...and didn't land, alas. Their branding is still lar…

Branding High-end Financial Services? Location, Location, Location.

I picked up my New York Times Magazine today, and because I know that a huge part of branding is association, looked to see which advertiser had purchased the prestigious back cover of the liberal's equivalent of the Sunday reading of The Scripture. I didn't have to get it through the full 180 turn before the deep green, gold bar, and handsome photographic portrait tripped my brand wires: First Republic Bank, featuring the vaunted computer scientist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and philanthropist (he's probably a nice guy, to boot), Peter Thiel.

First Republic has it down. They didn't always have it down, as their ads used to look a little rough around the edges, and the photography did not always exemplify the highest production values. But the personalities/clients they featured were always topnotch. The 1% presented without irony, exuding confidence and intelligence. Good breeding quite optional (though success a requirement).
But as powerful in their brand mess…

There is Dignity in Branding Without Acronyms

The recent rebrand of healthcare provider CHW (formerly Catholic Healthcare West) into Dignity Health was a masterstroke of naming, and the resulting corporate identity is refreshing and beautiful. Not sure who did the naming and design. They did a great job.

I was mostly glad to see another example of one of my most hated branding conventions – the acronym – fall by the wayside, its decaying corpse fertilizing the ground from which a real brand has sprouted and now begins to grow. And grow. Grow in a big and positive way. Literally. Here's what I'm talking about:

At a recent event in San Francisco (where I got to Talk to Chuckin real life) I ran into a fellow I know who is a senior executive with Dignity Health, neé CHW, and got to ask him about how the rebrand had affected business. He was emphatic. "It has completely changed everything for the better." He stated unequivocally, "Our people are energized. Our patients view us in a whole new, more positive light…

When Ants Swallow Elephants

Ants are small. But they are remarkably strong for their size. They are also able to adapt to almost any environment, including the man-made one. Elephants, on the other hand, are remarkably strong but not in direct proportion to their size. In fact, they have innumerable weaknesses due to their prodigious presence, and can only survive in an environment that is kept intentionally free of human intrusion.

What, oh what does this have to do with branding?

In mergers & acquisitions, a lot of time and effort is spent in valuation of the business assets of the company being acquired. Almost always the company with greater tangible assets (the elephant) is acquiring one of lesser (the ant), which makes obvious business sense.

The bigger company then goes on, in an almost perfunctory manner, to swallow, digest, and eventually eliminate the brand of the smaller company that has been acquired.

This does not always make the most sense. What if the smaller company actually has far more poten…

Reactive Robotics and Your Love/Hate Relationship with Brands

I attended an event at Swissnex the other night where robotics researchers Oussama Khatib from Stanford AI Labs and Aude Billard from the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Féderalé de Lausanne displayed the latest in their research into reactive robotics. I came away convinced that once our machines are able to learn and respond to changes in their environments, it will be us who will have to learn to adapt to a whole new world in which certain brands that we rely on for affirmation or association may disappear as they lose relevance in a reactive robotic world.

I'm talking about our machines: Our cars, our appliances, and our tools. The things we currently command but which are going to be literally taken out of our hands.

The Google self-driving car is perhaps the most obvious. Almost every automaker is heavily invested in developing highly sophisticated, reactive vehicles. California lawmakers just passed a bill making driverless cars legal on …