Sunday, January 08, 2006

‘Inside’ Intel’s ‘Leap Ahead’

News item: Intel changes logo and slogan ('Intel Inside') to new design and slogan ('Intel. Leap Ahead.')

Intel is “Inside” more products than ever these days. So why does “Leap Ahead” seem like a "stumble forward"?

Intel purports that their new logo and slogan is a way to convey that their chipsets are used in more ways than just PCs. But if Intel is ‘inside’ more than PCs, does it make sense that 'Intel Inside' has run its course? Or is one of the world’s most well known brands and slogans now dated? And does the new slogan, 'Leap Ahead', really accomplish an association with cutting edge devices?

For a technology component company, the fact that the Intel brand has as much visibility as it does is quite an accomplishment. No other B2B (business to business) brand is in the top five in studies of brand recognition. So to tinker with success is brave, and in line with my earlier post regarding constantly re-evaluating ‘known truths’. Changing up such a successful branding effort, took skill, bravery, and likely, an incredible internal sales job. So congratulations to CMO Eric Kim on making the effort to stay relevant. Still, at what cost? 2.5 billion to start, according to Businessweek. That's the cost of the brand launch campaign and related new product campaigns.

Why the change? Intel itself is changing. Instead of remaining focused on PCs, the ‘new’ Intel looks to play a key technological role in a many fields, including consumer electronics, wireless, and health care. Beyond microprocessors, Intel wants to create chips and software to create platforms. This moves them up the food chain and while still not a consumer brand (you can’t by ‘an Intel’ at Circuit City) it is getting closer to the consumer… especially through new entertainment and other third party alignments that will serve to produce content and applications for devices using Intel's new platform (particularly 'Viiv') over those of their competitors.

Still, the first rule of doctors, marketers and change agents: "First, do no harm." So does this major strategic shift really require a shift in branding?

In a word, yes. When a strategic shift is made, changing the brand identity is critical in not only the new identity created with it, but to get tongues wagging – like mine. It’s a signal to the market that something has changed, and such high profile change spurs conversation.

So with this change and the resultant discussion, can Intel really enhance their consumer-level brand identity through slogans and logos? Not entirely of course. We have to assume product performance, pricing strategy and application relevance will be equally considered. Given Kim’s success at Samsung we can assume those elements of the strategy will be well-covered. But while Samsung remains a successful ‘change marketing’ story, their brand still lacks definition. So what hath Kim wrought at Intel, specific to brand identity?

I think the past work for Intel was brilliant – no controversial statement, that one, given Intel's place in the market as essentially a non-consumer, consumer brand. The challenge is that any follow up would seem at best a bit tepid. So, let’s use a ‘bakery and bedpans’ comparison. How likely is it that bakers and bedpan manufacturers can claim the same slogan? ‘Leap Ahead’ is broad in the same way ‘Intel Inside’ was very specific. ‘Intel Inside’ essentially said, ‘if you love your device then you’ll want to know it is because of Intel’, thus creating demand via pull-through. Can that now be leveraged to trust Intel for an entire platform? Does ‘Leap Ahead’ really convey their role in cutting edge technologies? And critically important, if it does work, will device manufacturers be willing to share ‘ownership’ of the customer’s relationship with the device or content provider? That’s a long term distribution and partnership challenge, as has proven to be the case in the telecom space with customers shared - and fought over - among wireless providers, device manufacturers and content providers.

So, back to our test: Could a baker or bedpan manufacturer use ‘Leap Ahead’? Unlikely. But a host of other technology focused firms could, and for a component marketer, differentiation is critical, thus ‘Leap Ahead’ feels, well, as I warned before, tepid. Intel gets an E for effort. Their new direction required a new identity. But direction requires an objective, a focus, and as much as they’ve articulated that in strategy, ‘Leap Ahead’ is too much a blank page to reflect it in practice. Its fails, in my opinion, to inspire any sort of association with the new technology Intel will be bringing to market. It serves as an uncertain articulation of a far more certain future for this technology leader.

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