Friday, October 09, 2009

If a Better Boeing Brand Bombs, It’s Not So World-Ending.

Big is back. That’s the word from The Economist. The August 29, 2009 number even has a whale on the cover to emphasize its story, “The return of the corporate giant.” Big’s beautiful again even if for some of us the beauty part never went away. And The Economist mentions Boeing in the same sentence as Yahoo (in terms of 1998 capitalization, the nod went to Yahoo).

Coincidentally, in the 9/15/09 Marketing News, Elisabeth Sullivan wrote a three-pager about Boeing’s recent brand developments – her “Building a Better Brand” case study is available here. As a survey piece it’s not so bad but it leaves a couple of questions hanging around.

The how-it-came-to-be article trumpets a cohesive brand identity story, carefully quoting Boeing’s Fritz Johnson and Jim Newcomb; Boeing’s ad agency Draftfcb; corporate design firm Methodologie Inc; and (wait for it) an aerospace and defense industry think tank exec, Teal Group VP Richard Aboulafia.

The narrative gravely mentions “brand DNA” and “triple helix” and “design roadmap.” All good things, all quite contemporary. “Everyone should be managing the brand,” Newcomb says, adding that every employee now is interested in Boeing’s branding process.

For public consumption, though, it seems like the Boeing brand is constantly being reinvented. Whatever happened to the Horizons Global Advertising Campaign that Draftfcb launched for the company at the very end of 2001?

Was that the same introduction as the much-touted $50-million “Boeing: Forever New Frontiers” global television and print advertising campaign? Boeing’s brand management VP Anne C Toulouse said at the time (January 2002):

This campaign captures the spirit of Boeing, celebrating the power of human imagination and technological achievements…the Boeing brand is one of our most valuable intangible assets. Our investments in the brand help strengthen the company's long-term business position.

Now the company’s apparently gone back to the drawing board. It’s possible that the spirit of the big company changed in the eight or so years since “Forever New Frontiers” went public. Eight years is a long time in major corporations these days. (It’s also like the sign I once saw in a 3M conference room, “We’re going to keep having meetings until we find out why there’s no work getting done around here.”)

More telling to me is the hesitation Marketing News attributed to Aboulafia, the defense industry think-tanker. He’s wary of endorsing any external manifestations of the Boeing “One brand, One company” strategy discussed in the Marketing News article. Maybe he suspects that a new mega-branding effort on the company’s part will have little if any impact on its military and civilian customers and prospects.

Boeing isn’t just a mighty big company, with more than 158,000 employees in the US and 70 countries. It’s a mighty big brand, too. It’s been the world’s premier manufacturer of commercial jets for 40 years and arguably the most influential producer of warplanes for, like, forever. Despite the company’s participation in a wide array of other industries, from finance to software, it is principally viewed as an ironmonger.

So it probably doesn’t matter if the corporate people are tinkering with the cohesiveness of the company image. Boeing’s products…fly. That’s a great brand.

PS: I spent a large part of my military service time with aircraft produced by McDonnell-Douglas, now a key part of Boeing: A-3s and A-4s, and the propeller-driven C-47s, C-54s, C-117s. I’m a long-ago member of Mach Nix, which may explain why I’m slow on the uptake: Why didn’t I write this blog post back in May, when Boeing per-share price was $29? Photo: USAF.

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