Internet Spurs Blanding, Not Branding

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With a click of the mouse, you can access and purchase just about anything on the Internet. Whatever your tastes might be, there’s a site to satiate your consumable cravings, each as unique as your individual taste.

You can purchase something as practical as a bag of groceries (though personally, I still enjoy squeezing and selecting my own produce), or you can indulge and buy something as obscure as a Balinese windup mouse for your cat.

It’s all there, flowing freely through our digital boxes 24 hours a day, further providing an open door to informational and material worlds. Yet, how are these Internet companies establishing and maintaining a unique presence within this rapidly expanding industry of bits-and-clicks technology?

We have not hit our stride with this whole Internet, information age, dot-com thing. The technology is there; we’ve recognized its purpose, realized its potential and embraced it financially by throwing billions of dollars into it.

Companies are genuinely excited about the Internet’s possible effects on their overall business models, but just how original are these companies in presenting what they have to say or sell? How realistic have they been in expressing themselves to their customers?

It’s the Motion, or So It Seems

In the mad rush to adopt this relatively new technology, everyone seems to have forgotten that the Internet is just another tool – a mechanism or potential asset – that can portray a company’s products or services to its customers.

Instead of defining their identities or brand messages through their products or services, these hi-tech corporations are expressing them by touting the technology in which it exists.

Bad idea. Why? Because the technology does not say anything about the companies and the products or services they are promoting.

Technology does not provide the meat of who they are and, therefore, creates no emotional connection with their customers. By identifying themselves with the technology, these companies are starting to look the same.

Have you noticed the identities or logos for these technology-driven companies? Call them what you want, but the logo “design du jour” for many has become this banal, nouveau-technological swoosh.

These elliptical, crescent-like graphic gestures, which seem to gyrate into infinity, are showing up everywhere, proclaiming motion and movement and telling consumers, “We’re connected.”

So what? Who isn’t? What does it say about the companies themselves? Not much. Even some of the big guys have played into this corporate blanding, missing opportunities to express who they are and what they represent (sell) by promoting the technology instead.

History Repeats Itself

A decade ago, the logo of the day was the globe. It, too, was everywhere, with companies announcing to the world, “Our reach is global!” But if thousands of companies express a similar message, regardless of their market niche, then who really notices them? How are they distinct?

Today’s swoosh replaces our past “global” aspirations, providing an even broader comment on our communicative psyches. With our increased appetites for messaging, we have created this virtual space that is even bigger than the planet.

Hence the hyperbole of these graphic gestures. As a result, we find companies swooshing into the future for no apparent reason.

Where Did It All Start?

I’m not sure where the swoosh seed sprouted. My hunch is that a combination of influences and events has perpetuated corporate America’s captivation with it.

Maybe it is a simple resurgence of past preoccupations with technology, such as the Atomic Age, when American businesses expressed their progressiveness through swirling neutrons, protons and electrons. Forget about its initial primary use; the isotope was our friend, and businesses eagerly embraced its symbolic, technological references.

The same is true today with the profound effect of worldwide Internet technology, which has changed the entire business paradigm. In both cases of our mercantile history, these trends in corporate identity symbolize our blind determination to harness these newly found technologies and beat them to death.

Possibly a more plausible cue for our current swooshing may have come from one of the most prolific brands of our time, Nike. This identity, however, is more than just a swoosh. It has meaning. It was the first. It claims reference to its historical origin by representing a stylization of the wings of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory – an appropriate message for a company that sells athletic footwear.

Nike has become so recognizable through appropriate brand messaging that its swoosh distinguishes it now without even having a name attached. So thousands of other companies have followed in Nike’s footsteps, thinking that by developing their own swooshes, they, too, will have similar success.

Instead of becoming recognizable, they essentially have made themselves invisible among their competitors.

Most of these companies have simply become wrapped up in the technology of the Internet, allowing it to drive their business pursuits instead of using it as a tool to meet their overall business objectives.

Technology Rules, But for How Long?

As the technology of the Internet becomes more commonplace, the claims that these swoosh companies make with their identities will have significance in the marketplace (as if they have much now).

Their customers will lose any emotional connection they might have had with these companies, and they will move on to those they do connect with.

These logos/identities eventually (probably very soon) will find their place in the logo graveyard, next to the swirling atomic particles and globes. Some of the better, more conceptual logos will survive, but the majority will have little effect or emotional response on customers.

These companies are very much like a substance abuser, with the substance being the technology. Companies need to stop relying on the technology to drive their messages.

They must learn to express their personalities and determine how those personalities match up with their customers. When they finally recognize that this path toward corporate blandness is the least beneficial one for establishing an effective brand with the consumer, they will be on their own road to recovery.

Tyler Blik is the principal of Tyler Blik Design, San Diego.

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