Larry Page’s memo introducing Alphabet is a masterpiece in rebranding communication. Regardless of how many copywriters it took to create, it feels deeply personal, honest, sensible and, in places, inspiring.
It’s hard to argue with its logic and one cannot resist falling under its spell; we may not have seen this coming but the future is Alphabet, of course it is.
I’m almost entirely on board with this argument – creating a robust and dynamic architecture for the corporation is not only sensible but essential, and none of this undermines the constituent brands in any way – until I get to the very last line of Page's memo: the confession that the name does not yet sit comfortably in their own minds.
The flippancy of that line (completed with exclamation mark) belies its more sinister purpose, which is to instruct us that we shouldn’t make the mistake of attaching any weight to our own subjective judgements of the name as they are not only unworthy, but so not the point.
The point, we are asked to believe, is the business case and that Alphabet means everything about human language and, with the linear-thinking wit of a data scientist, an 'alpha-bet', a strong investment. So it’s here that I start to feel a little disappointed.
Google, as a name, is unlike anything that came before it. It is elegant to say and to read. It is an adaptation of a real word but not a real word itself, which made it unique and entirely ownable from day one. Combine these qualities with the utility of the product and a new verb is born. If Google had been named Googol, this would not have happened. Google, the name, is quite brilliant. I find it disappointing that Alphabet is not.
It’s not because I’m not used to it yet – as a brand consultant I do understand how that familiarisation process works – I just think it could have, should have, been something better and cooler than the overly simplistic Alphabet.
What this name fails to convey to me is any sense of the specialness of the corporation, nor its ambition, long-term view, empowerment, scale, transparency, focus or humanity – which are the things Page writes in his memo that they are excited about.
When you create a new brand for an organisation, the task is to codify its messages into its name and identity. Brands don't deliver themselves in the market with thousand-word essays attached; they rely on their primary identity assets to transcend detailed analysis and convey meaning that lodges in the mind. This rule applies equally for a corporate holding company brand as for a consumer brand. Alphabet doesn’t do it for me.
But it’s only a name, which is but one element of a brand identity. What is far more interesting than the name is the web address - www.abc.xyz - which is a wonderfully elegant, quirky and memorable idea.
I hope that what Alphabet does from here is build a powerful brand identity replete with meaning that tells the full story of the corporation and its future intent. Recessive, apologetic corporate brand identities are not the way forward for the world’s most dynamic organisations, of which Alphabet is one.
In brand strategy terms this move makes complete sense. In brand identity terms there’s significant further work to be done.
Jim Prior is CEO of two WPP agencies; The Partners and Lambie-Nairn. This blog originally appeared on MarketingMagazine.co.uk.