The Cult of Personality and Tech Brands

May 19, 2010

In a pretty short time span, many very big name tech brands have risen and fallen.  In thinking about this, in a very non-scientific way, it certainly seems that the stronger brands are generally associated with a strong personality – whether good or bad.  Does a company need to be associated with a person?  More for fun than anything else, here are some examples:

  • Microsoft = Bill Gates. Arguably, Microsoft has gone a bit sideways since Gates stepped down as CEO.  Balmer can’t play the role of authentic tech company founder.
  • Amazon = Jeff Bezos. Amazon is the oldest company among the big and still strong dotcoms.  Amazon has had an amazing run.  Bezos deserves even more credit than he gets.  He can never retire.  Never.
  • eBay = Meg Whitman. The company really grew under her leadership.  Who is eBay now?  eBay used to be fun and cutting edge.  I rarely use it anymore.
  • Yahoo! = Filo and Yang, especially Yang. Yahoo! has completely lost its center.  I’m not sure I know what Yahoo! stands for and why I should use it.  Yang had a second run, but it was too late.
  • AOL = Steve Case. This is a sad story for sure.  AOL is working on its umpteenth comeback.
  • Apple = Steve Jobs. This is probably the strongest personalty association.  I almost feel like I bought my phone and computer from the guy.  I’m thinking about buying one of his iPads.  There’s a reason Apple’s stock price tracked Jobs’ health issues.  However, perhaps, Jobs is becoming “the man.”
  • Dell = Dell (duh). Well, this one doesn’t fit the mold.  Dell has fallen from grace a bit. Maybe they shouldn’t have brought on that annoying Dell Dude.
  • CraigsList = Craig. Interesting thought experiment: what would happen if USA Today/Gannett (or the like) purchased CraigsList?
  • MySpace = Tom. Tom was everyone’s first friend on MySpace.  He’s gone.  It’s Rupert now. MySpace has tanked.
  • Facebook = Zuckerberg. He’s not a popular guy right now.  However, neither was Gates for many years.  Zuck seems to be hiding under a rock lately, during the privacy issues.  Not smart.
  • Oracle = Larry E. Pretty scary guy.  A company that you feel like you don’t want to mess with.  He breaks the “you should be likable” mold.
  • Twitter = the @boys (Ev, Biz, Jack). Nice guys who almost accidentally struck on something very big.  I kind of like that whale thing too.
  • Comcast = Brian Roberts. I’d never seen the guy until recently.  After seeing him demo an iPad application, the company seems to have a bit more of a real personality.  Comcast should get him out there more.
  • HP. Going with the HP name, with its history and garage tech lore, was probably a good choice over Compaq.
  • Google = Larry and Sergey, along with CEO father figure Mr. Schmidt. The “do no evil” guys.  Google is huge, but it still feels, somehow, very human.  We’ll see if that lasts.
  • Intel = Still equates to Grove and Moore. They are gone, but I still somehow associate the company with these legendary guys.
  • IAC = Barry Diller. Another scary guy.  I don’t necessarily want to do business with him.  Perhaps, IAC is a counter-example.
  • Pets.com = Sock Puppet. Proof positive that you can’t fake personality with cheap gimmicks.  Same goes with that Jeeves guy.

The list could go on and on.  Obviously, there are many factors that lead to long term success (e.g., IBM).  However, a personality, so to speak, would seem to be correlated with long term success in tech.

Tech CEOs need to be “out there” associating their personality with the brand (with exceptions, of course).

Oh, and the good should never be allowed to retire…

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One Response to “The Cult of Personality and Tech Brands”

  1. Tim Lane Says:

    I kind of liked that sock puppet


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