On Monday night, Google announced that it was changing its name to ‘Alphabet’. The search engine, of course, will remain the same, but the parent company, owner of YouTube, half of Motorola and most of the internet, will be no longer be associated with the name we’re all so familiar with. ‘G’ becomes just one of many letters within the Alphabet.
Why does this matter? Well Google, of course, would arguethat it doesn’t, but in reality it does hold some key lessons from a branding perspective. Google’s portfolio has been widening exponentially for years now, and it owns everything from artificial intelligence groups to price comparison websites, making it one of the most diverse companies on the planet. Despite this, when most people hear ‘Google’ they think of a search engine……. and not much else. Indeed, the word Google has become so all-encompassing that even when using rival search engines, most people would just say ‘Google it’, threatening to dilute the Google brand to the level of Hoover, Sellotape and Blue-Tac as a genericised word rather than a brand. The high-ups at the so-called ‘Googleplex’ clearly saw these problems as damaging to their other brands and ‘Alphabet’ is their solution.
Google is far from alone in rebranding itself so dramatically. ‘Yellow Pages’ was seen as an anachronism in a world where, ironically, you could Google everything rather than looking it up in a book. As a result, it has rebooted itself online as yell.com, dropping the dead weight of paper and becoming a one-stop trade website. The list is varied and extensive: ‘Norwich Union’ became ‘Aviva’, ‘Opal Fruits’ became ‘Starbursts’ and even ‘BackRub’ became ‘Google’ in 1998.
Time will tell whether or not Google’s latest rebranding proves as effective as its previous one, but it is worth noting that the announcement caught many off guard. After all, Forbes magazine has declared Google the third most trusted brand in the world, and it is a brand so powerful that is has been part of the Oxford dictionary since 2006. In short, why would you drop such a valuable brand?
This is an attitude taken by numerous companies, such as the Carphone Warehouse, a name which is about as outdated as they come, which has retained its name for fear of losing its long standing brand power on the high street. Another example, Vauxhall, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Opel Cars and hasn’t produced a car of its own in decades, yet retains the brand in the UK where it is trusted and respected.
Both of those examples have been relative successes, but sticking to your guns is not always the wisest thing to do, as brands such as Nokia can testify. At the turn of the millennium, Nokia dominated the mobile phone market, producing advanced, cost-effective technology. However, as the smartphone revolution took off towards the end of the decade, Nokia’s brand increasingly appeared to be a relic of a bygone age, and the mobile phone wing of the company was sold and rebranded as ‘Microsoft Mobile’ in 2014, consigning the Nokia mobile to history, next to such luminaries as MySpace and the News of the World.
In short, then, it’s pretty evident that brand renaming has had a mixed record of success. Here at OCC, we’re trying juggling the rebranding of one of our clients right now. This involves designing new logos, formatting new websites (hopefully you’ve noticed our recent upgrade there as well) and, yes, dealing with a brand new name. Fortunately, our client’s rebranding is going well so far, but the balance between retaining the history and prestige of a classic brand and progressing forwards with a new one has proved too difficult for some brands, and we simply don’t know whether or not Google/Alphabet will prove a triumph or a tragedy quite yet. For any other company this would be a massive risk, but it would take a fool of some level to write off Alphabet this early, they’ve got quite the track record of achieving the remarkable. If you don’t believe me, go on, Google it.