It was with a mix of amusement and agreement to see one of the many year-end lists you see this time of the year: CNN’s “Dumbest Business Moments in 2010.”
There was a lot of nodding in my camp over Microsoft’s Kin and the Kardashian credit card, as well as many others on the list. I’ve stated my position on the Gap logo before, and I think CNN is missing the point about Steve Jobs’ answer to the iPhone 4 “glitch” by saying “You’re holding it wrong.” (It may have been a bad choice of words, but Jobs – who understands brand better than just about anyone – knew the “glitch” didn’t matter because the Apple brand was too strong.)
But one of the moments on the list is a bit more intriguing – and complicated – than it first seems: Chevrolet’s internal memo to employees to ensure they no longer speak of the brand as “Chevy.”
It’s not as dumb as it first sounds because consistency in brand goes across your entire business, not just in marketing and advertising. It is cultural, which means it informs everything that brand does inside and outside the company. And Chevrolet had to do something as sales dropped and “Chevy” was beginning to sound old-fashioned and quaint. The process here was correct.
The supposed dumbness comes from the notion that “Chevy” is what consumers call the brand, and turning that around is tough business. That kind of endeavor does take time. Most of all, however, Chevrolet has to ensure it gives the Chevrolet name a meaning that separates it from Chevy and resonates with audiences. Otherwise, it is a dumb moment.
If you give your new name or re-imagined one meaning that resonates in the marketplace, then you can turn the key. It overcomes everything, including a bad logo (Gap, if the Gap brand had any meaning) or an engineering mistake (Apple).
The opposite, however, is much more difficult. Take a look at how difficult of a time Radio Shack is having, trying to be called “The Shack” by the marketplace. (We’ll put aside its other problems with its business model.) In that case, no one ever called it The Shack, so the whole process felt contrived and, well, dumb. You’d feel like an idiot calling it The Shack.
But calling a Chevy a Chevrolet is an easier step, and one the automaker is going about the right way by aligning its internal messages first – leaked memo or not. It’s what it does next that will make or break it, then we can all judge with our wallets.