Alphabet Schmalphabet.

Hmm, recent blogging and commentary on Google’s corporate reorganization and subsequent new corporate name, Alphabet led me to think about unscrambling that name or, in essence, recreating such, as “they” did.

This has been the theme of several thought pieces recently. One of the best was penned by Toby Southgate, CEO of Brand Union, posted in LinkedIn on August 12th. I would encourage you to read this below.

Interestingly, the longest word you can make by unscrambling and re-arranging the letters in the word ALPHABET is, in fact, “HATABLE” – meaning capable of being hated, deserving hatred, or detestable. Nice eh?

Let’s not dwell on that, shall we.

Here’s Tony’s thoughts.


Recreating The Alphabet

Last week’s news from Google—the full implications of which are still being revealed—is one of the most incredible pieces of corporate brand communication I can remember.

It’s a brand name we all know. One of the biggest, newest, most successful, influential, imaginative businesses in the world. Truly global, tens of thousands of employees, billions of users, an unwavering vision to change the world. And they simply pick up and change the name of the business at the top of the tree. The publicly listed entity is now Alphabet, and Google is a wholly owned subsidiary.

By any stretch, this is a huge change. A remarkable one. And the lessons for our industry—for brand and communications professionals and marketers everywhere—are multiple.

Do you think they went through a laborious name generation exercise? Do we imagine months of sweating over post-it notes and whiteboards, exploring every possible embryonic option on the classic Interbrand / Lippincott / Siegel ‘proprietary’ naming spectrum from rational / functional to emotional / descriptive? And yes, by all means, include our agency in that list—surprise alert—we’ve all wheeled out the same tools on occasion, and anyone who pretends otherwise is lying. The gene pool of our industry is small and talent can be fickle. No news there.

Once they had a shortlist, do you think they shared plans and multiple ‘comfortable’ options with in-house and external legal? Did they seek guidance on trademark ownership and IP protection? Did they have endless discussions about whether or not Alphabet was ‘truly ownable?’ “It’s a proper noun, of course, so we can never really OWN it.” (Don’t lie, industry colleagues—you have uttered those words even if you did not want to).

Of course they didn’t.

Google speaks about thinking big, and does.

Google leads by example and by doing, not by theorizing and espousing.

Debate has merit of course, but action has energy, and creates more.

They believe in being bold, and that starts with decision making. Quick, accountable, clearly communicated decision making. And accepting that no decision is ever perfect or complete.

There will be more questions. There already are. “Where does Ventures sit?” “Will GoogleX still report to Sergey?” “Who’s this former McKinsey guy that’s now CEO?”

They will be dealt with and managed efficiently and rapidly. As Larry and Sergey wrote 11 years ago, “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”

We work in an industry and are surrounded by people who talk a lot, and often about big, bold stuff. Because challenging thinking is tough to embrace, it’s more often a topic of conversation than a reality. An agenda item and a meeting topic, too rarely a fact of our working lives. And because most people who claim to be brave and to want to do something different and radical often become paralyzed in the face of opportunity to do exactly that, we’re stuck in a world where most corporate and brand communication looks and feels—well—kind of the same.

So we have to move from conversations about doing, to actually doing. From generics to specifics, from comfort to discomfort. We need our ideas and our work to be brilliantly designed and beautifully connected. The same way yesterday’s news from Google is delivered and presented: perfectly consistent—regardless of scale, breadth, and subsequent achievement—with the promise its founders made when they set the business up.

Nothing else really matters. It’s noise.

I’ve spoken to two very senior Google execs in the last 24 hours. Neither of them had more than a few hours notice. They weren’t involved. They confirmed the speed and agility and privacy of the changes. They also applauded the bravery. In other organizations, they’d be posturing and defensive. “Why wasn’t I involved?” “Where’s the research?” “Will it translate in Asia?” “Alphabet—seriously?” At Google, it is embraced.

Speed. Bravery. Execution. Clear communication. Action over debate.

We have a lot to learn. And perhaps most challenging of all, we’d probably like to think we already know this is an effective way to build brands today. We probably talk all the time about doing things differently, but always end up with the same excuses. “Wait for next time.” “The client wasn’t up for it.” “The brief wasn’t right.” “We couldn’t sell the route the CMO really wanted.”

These are excuses. We have to find a way.

Tony Southgate, CEO Brand Union August 12th, 2015


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