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Alphabet has taught us the importance of the corporate brand

By Jim Prior | CEO



Opinion article

August 28, 2015 | 5 min read

The surprise announcement of a new holding company for Google and other ventures has prompted much debate about the role of corporate holding-company brands. The debate arises because the chosen name, Alphabet, is somewhat more imaginative than is usually the case in such circumstances – Google Corporation, or a simple acronym, for example, would probably not have prompted any debate at all. Aside of the discussion on the merits of that specific choice of name, which has already been comprehensively covered elsewhere, the big question being asked is, does the name or identity of a corporate holding company matter at all. Some people, including some prominent marketing professionals, think it does not.

They say that beyond a basic need for identification, the choice of name and design of identity has no role to play in communicating anything about the organisation’s strengths, intent or uniqueness, and whether or not people like it is immaterial. Such people are completely wrong.

Google, now Alphabet, seem to be stuck in the no-man’s-land of this debate too. On the one hand, they have launched this name with public memo from Larry Page that explains its back-story: Google’s fundamental operating dependency on language and a very one-dimensional pun on taking ‘alpha bets’ – clearly a name with a story was important to them. Yet on the other hand they have presented the name with a bland, almost non-existent identity and some very clichéd imagery of children’s building blocks, giving the impression that their interest in telling the story is merely a transient thing. It seems illogical to go to the trouble of selecting a name that requires a thousand-word memo to explain it but not to follow it up with the attention or craft that such a step deserves. Unless, that is, that they believe that an interesting name is important but an interesting identity is not. But that’s nonsense too.

Here’s the deal: brand names and brand identities are hugely important business tools. They convey meaning and promises to audiences in the minimal time and attention span that is available. This applies just as much to corporate holding companies as it does to Coca-Cola, Apple, BMW or Nike for one very simple reason: they are designed in accordance with the human brain. Neuroscience has proven that brand names and identities, especially identities, work to trigger memories and emotions in the human brain in ways that reading a page of text on a website or in a brochure can never achieve. They simplify and shortcut decision-making in the same way that when the human eye sees a certain bundle of energy, the human brain summarises it as, for example, a tree. To suggest that corporate investors, analysts and other stakeholders at a corporate holding company level – not to mention the talent that the organisation must attract and retain – have brains that somehow function differently to everyone else makes absolutely zero sense. Ergo, corporate brands are clearly just as important as they are in any other field. More quantifiably, research that my company has undertaken of the world’s most valuable brands has shown that over the last ten years, organisations that have invested in branding have grown their financial brand value by 168 per cent compared to 21 per cent for those that have not. I struggle to understand why anyone would fail to take full advantage of the power of branding when the evidence is so clear.

Since the recession of 2008, there’s been a trend for organisations to choose to ignore this point. It started out as a legitimate desire to not attract attention at a time when public mood was at its least favourable towards large corporations. But it has evolved into a melancholy stasis in which corporate brands have been ignored, neglected or, worst of all, deliberately under-designed. I suspect that much of the reason why corporations have failed to invest adequately in their brands is now no more than bad habit – it’s certainly not logic – and it’s time now that this changed.

Brand identities create memorable distinction and differentiation in marketplaces in which meaningful functional product or service differentiation is increasingly impossible to secure. They help convey stories and meaning that assist decision-making, establish relevancy and positive disposition. They help organisations achieve their business goals and become more successful. Whether in a consumer brand or a corporate holding company not only do they matter, they are one of the most important tools you have. Alphabet, currently, gets just half way there. Others need to ignore the misinformed naysayers and take the bold step to develop braver, more creative corporate brands.

Jim Prior is chief executive of Lambie-Nairn and The Partners

Alphabet Google UK

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