I sit in front of organisations and tell them they need fewer brands. I talk about focus, profitability and marketing excellence and how all three things point to a need to kill brands. When it comes to a brand portfolio, less is almost always more. The executives nod their heads in agreement.
Then I ask each of them to consider which of their brands they would like to kill and the executives all make a mental note of some poxy little brand they will shut down. Then I explain they should forget about that poxy little brand because the real question is not which brand they will kill, but which ones they will keep.
This usually (not always) rocks their world and we begin to debate the bigger issue of how many brands their organisation actually needs and how they might get from the cluttered, ineffective portfolio they currently operate to the optimum one they have just articulated.
When I get back into the classroom, I boast to my MBA students that in my career as a consultant I have helped kill more than 200 brands and have created a grand total of two. I talk about the Norwegian Rat (Google it) and tell them, partly because I believe it, that this is about the right ratio for a modern brand manager. Kill a hundred and create one.
So killing brands isn’t something I have a problem with. In fact, I see it as imperative for business success.
But over the past few weeks I have come to see the issue of brand killing in a different light. My passion for killing was always predicated on an active and enduring objectivity, one might even call it callousness, for the brands under the chopping block. Like the slaughterman who sees the livestock in front of him as just another shipment to be dispatched for pay, I saw brand killing as simply a way of business. I was never connected.
But all that has changed thanks to Google. Just over a year ago the company announced it would “retire” its personalised web page site iGoogle. According to the announcement, iGoogle is a victim of evolution because it was launched before Google “could fully imagine the ways that today’s web and mobile apps would put personalised, real-time information at your fingertips.
“With modern apps that run on platforms like Chrome and Android, the need for something like iGoogle has eroded over time, so we’ll be winding down iGoogle on 1 November 2013”.
For the past month, whenever you visit iGoogle, a helpful label appears at the top of the site reminding you that “iGoogle will close down in X days”. It makes strategic sense. Maintaining and supporting the gadgets that people used to populate their iGoogle pages became too draining and distracting given the arrival of apps and the more immediate attractions of mobile.
The iGoogle brand also actively prevented users from fully utilising both Google+ and GoogleNow, which are the company’s favoured long-term products. So it had to go.
I understand the logic, it’s just, well, I love iGoogle. For almost a decade it’s been my homepage. That means I have looked at it more than I have looked at my wife.
It tells me how my investments are doing. It tells me what time it is in Shanghai. It presents all my emails in a neat little box in the top right corner. It lets me know the football scores and the latest business news. It has been the coordinates by which I chart my day and soon it will be gone. Sigh.
For me and the 20 million other daily users of iGoogle, it will be a sad moment and it is coming fast. The sword of a digital Damocles approaches with inevitable speed and I find myself desperately trying to work out what I will do once iGoogle is gone.
Who knew that brand killing was so painful? Who would have imagined that all those brands I helped to slaughter had customers, like me, who dreaded their departure and regretted their demise? iMourn iGoogle.