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The New Microsoft Branding

Microsoft Redesign Point of ViewMicrosoft is in a year of reinvention. The company is trying to shed an image of stuffiness, slowness, and “uncool” with innovative new products, aggressive marketing, and a significant movement with it’s core strategies. To punctuate these operational changes, Microsoft has released a new brand mark and visual Identity.

The new identity polarized the tech audience. Some hate it, others love it. Like anything coming out of Redmund lately, there seems to be little middle-ground for acceptance.

I think the new logo is excellent. For a brand that draws on 25 years of history in the technology space, Microsoft is very much ‘your father’s computer company’. I think the emergence of tablets as a power-technology and a muddying of the consumer electronics and consumer markets has left Microsoft scared and forced some changes. To survive, the must change their approach to new products and software.

Windows 8 looks to be an excellent move forward from a user experience standpoint and a shift to an iterate-quickly model that Google and Apple are seeing success with. XBox is a massive success in the gaming category. Windows Phone is still waiting for wider adoption by consumers, but it’s well received by the tech community and (based on first hand experience) is an excellent interface and contenter in the mobile space.

Microsoft Logo 2012

I think the new Microsoft brand is an excellent design solution. It embodies Microsoft’s history in the technology space, but is also very current in it’s palette and type. There is a very traditional structure featuring the windows icon on the left. The new interpretation of the “window” is modern, but still familiar. The Microsoft moniker, in medium grey, is set in Segoe–a clean, san-serif slotted to replace a tired Trebuchet as a screen-optimized font. The proportions are conservative and balanced. The palette is carried over from previous versions of the logo, but in the flat, graphic representation reflects the new interface in Windows 8, due for a public launch this fall.

It’s very easy to criticize Microsoft as being conservative or to note that the new branding is an evolution rather than a new approach entirely. This is a perfect move for Microsoft to plunge into 2013 with new products, new markets, and enthusiasm for a reinvention.

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Phonetic Marketing

Phonetic marketingWith Apple’s release of beta program Siri to the public, there is a new opportunity (and challenge) for facing marketers: Phonetic marketing. Although voice search has been available for Android for more than a year, and new browser releases allow for voice search using your computer’s microphone, Apple is the company that usually forces traction for the everyday man’s adoption of new technologies. Siri is software that interprets your plain-language requests from the iPhone’s microphone and responds with an appropriate action. If this sounds intriguing and you haven’t see a demonstration, take a look at ThisIsMyNext’s Siri compilation.

What does this mean to advertisers? If a user makes a request of Siri that is outside of it’s knowledge base, Siri will use a search engine for results based on how it has interpreted the request. This is where the shift is: Apple (and this category of voice-search) is conditioning users to make requests in plain language-a shift from how many people search AND an even larger shift from how many marketers are building their SEO/SEM campaigns. What would a newly launched XEROX be if it isn’t findable in 2012?

Scent As Branding

Scent as Branding - OR - OLFACTORY BRANDINGIn competitive spaces like the hotel industry, differentiation is crucial. Defined by many difficult to articulate properties, service, ambiance and implied personal taste being examples. Modern brands have found new ways to leave an impression in customer’s minds: Olfactory marketing

What does “scent” mean to a brand? What can be communicated? Several examples come to mind, the coconut scent of suntan lotion, synonymous with beach vacations and the heat of summer sun. Other examples include the branding of hotel chains via a specific aroma that is uniform regardless of location or geography and the most famous–the formulation of fryer oil for McDonalds to induce a pavlovian purchase from the hungry masses.

The approach to branding via aroma can be approached several ways, As a welcoming message to returning patrons with a scent that is unique the first time, but can trigger a memory upon re-encountering the scent. This is a way for marketers to approach still new territory with consumers. The brain is capable of storing and retrieving memories associated with odor more clearly than the other senses. This, combined with the reliance on visual stimulus for online marketing, can make “real-world” encounters powerful opportunities for a service to establish itself in memory.

Scent can also leverage a feeling based on pre-existing proclivity. An example, would be the smell of cleanliness. Lemon and citrus smells lend themselves well to household instances. Heavier reliance on cleanliness (hospitals and healthcare facilities) require something stronger to reach sterile requirements and also set expectation for a stronger smell to establish the sense of cleanness in visitors mind.

for many brands, the task may seem daunting: where to begin? How much is too much? How will I measure success? For large brands, a finding a specialist in the field is a great chance to be a leader and do so with a group that has experience. Brands can also work on a smaller scale with market research and smaller, pilot programs. Such testing can yield not only information on how to “sniff” out success, but also a way to learn about your audience’s disposition for your brand. Scent is a way to articulate ideas without the typical predispositions most market research has.

In many ways, technology is tearing us away from analog encounters and refining our perception on what is a narrow channel of measure. So much of digital branding is now held to the visual and audio communication that travels well digitally. This encounters that we have as consumers outside of that narrow band can be very powerful. As brands enter into s maturing online market and social branding becomes a minimum point of entry, making strong mark’s on people’s memories is crucial. Accessing those memories and provoking a feeling or mood will help build an affinity and a toggle for strong feelings at a later date or even without direct exposure to the trigger.

Using a series of colors and tones, we may soon be seeing some marketing tools that cause sme-mories.

The Downside of Social Media for Advertisers and Marketers

A critical review of the GAP and it's handling of the new logoThe GAP, a clothing retailer, recently learned how social media can influence their brand in a bad way. After revealing their new logo, executives where confronted with an audience unhappy with the new helvetica based, simplified brand-mark. Afraid of a backlash, marketing officers quickly retreated from their decision to launch the new logo and replaced it with the previous iteration.

How was this the wrong decision? Unfortunately, the GAP is being short-sited in it’s handling of the situation. The logo, designed by the agency Laird & Partners, is intended as an evolutionary component of retail branding already in place in over 3,100 locations. The stores, almost completely dominated by in high-contrast helvetica type are an excellent example of uniformity and icon brand identity. That brand identity has one exception, their logo. The implementation of this new logo (aesthetics aside) would solidify retail identity, online, and major media marketing. This is the position that likely led to the logo’s creation and one that should have been held to in the logo’s implementation.

Crowd sourcing is a term that GAP executive had mentioned in the spin following the logo being repealed. I don’t believe that major branding decisions or the wisdom of the masses would result in any impactful branding presence. Rather, the use of the “collective” lends itself better to viral media or the use of products in the market. The mention of this is as a solution is an escape from having to stand your ground as a leader-and in the case of the GAP, a leader in fashion and aesthetics.

Social media, powerful as it is in the distribution of message is a poor creation vehicle. The vision and focus that is required to create great things must come with a vision. This vision is not housed on Facebook or Twitter. Part of using these mediums is knowing their strengths and understanding that you have to control the message-especially when it is an unpopular one. It is very likely that the resistance to the GAP’s new identity would have never effected sales nor would anyone have paid much attention after several days had passed.

Although I don’t think that the new logo would have yielded a design award, it worked well with and represented the GAP brand very well.

About Cullmann

Chris Cullmann is a Creative Director and Online Strategist. He works for Ogilvy CommonHealth Interactive Marketing, a digital agency dedicated to healthcare marketing. His professional and personal portfolio includes interactive websites, viral and social media, and online education applications. His portfolio and observations about the design and marketing industry can be found at www.cullmanndesign.com

The opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or those who I am professionally connected.

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