Google to Alphabet: smart move but not radical at all

First published in Marketing Magazine 11th August 2015

The move from Google to Alphabet is far from radical; it’s well trodden as a business model by FMCG giants like P&G and Unilever, argues Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO at ClearScore.

With the creation of a holding company called Alphabet they are starting to look more like a Procter & Gamble or Unilever

The blog post announcing the rebranding of the Google into Alphabet this morning has taken everyone a bit by surprise. The markets have generally reacted positively with a 5% rise in the stock with the normal commentary both good and bad. We should admire Larry, Sergey and Eric that for once, in our world of obsessive management of investor expectations they have actually managed to steal a march on the millions of eyes watching Google.

Tradtional and well proven model

Many commentators have hailed this as a “radical” restructure adopting a model akin to Berkshire Hathaway. However, from a brand management perspective the move is treading a traditional and well proven model. With the creation of a holding company called Alphabet they are starting to look more like a Procter & Gamble or Unilever: that is a holding company with a wide portfolio of businesses and brand assets. The manifest benefits of this approach that has served the packaged good behemoths for over 100 years will deliver undoubted benefit to Google going forward.

Nobody likes companies that are too powerful, witness the fall of Tesco as it sought to become ubiquitous and got out of control

There are consumer benefits. Nobody likes companies that are too powerful. Witness the fall of Tesco as it sought to become ubiquitous and got out of control. Imagine if the brands we buy from P&G were not Ariel, Fairy, Pantene, Pampers, Gilette, Max Factor, Oral-B, Duracell, Lenor, Clearblue, Vicks but all of them called Procter & Gamble? We would start to freak out that one company could be so pervasive and dominant in our lives. As Google has broadened their offerings from search to email, to office apps, to mobile phones, to laptops, to household control, to cars; all of these being linked very clearly to the Google name creates the same concerns and worries. Moving to a house of brands under Alphabet will help manage some of these risks and drive growth.

Privacy concerns will manifest at Alphabet

The establishment of lots of different brands potentially may make it considerably harder for us to all understand where our data and information is going

Next, whilst taking the brand benefit, the establishment of a central infrastructure for Alphabet with central management and resources will allow assets to be shared across the different businesses. It is in this sharing that I think the most concerns may arise. Collection and manipulation of data, often playing close to privacy concerns, is hard-wired into Google and will therefore manifest itself at Alphabet. The establishment of lots of different brands potentially may make it considerably harder for us to all understand where our data and information is going. If I use Google search is this going to be shared with my separately branded self-driving car or my central home control unit?

Google has struggled with transparency

I’d also bet that Twitter will be an Alphabet company in the next 12 months

Brand trust is built through transparency and openness. Google has struggled with this in the past and many people don’t trust the brand. This potentially becomes much more complex in a holding company structure. For perspective, the consumer packaged goods companies have wrestled with this as well. They know a huge amount about their consumers across different brands and have experimented with cross promotion by using this understanding at a holding brand level, exploring whether consumers want a direct relationship with the P&G or Unilever brand. Results have been very patchy – people tend to be more suspicious and wary, rather than welcoming. In our hearts we like products and brands that do one thing well, rather than interacting with huge mega-corporations that know rather too much about our habits for comfort.

Alphabet is an engineering company, not an ad business

The last reason why this strategic change shouldn’t surprise is that it is a natural fulfilment of the vision that Sergey Brin and Larry Page outlined 11 years ago when they founded the Google. They have always wanted Google to be an engineering company in the broadest sense. Google is now an information and advertising business. The move to establishing Alphabet allows them to build different competencies and leverage different structures to solve a broader set of problems. Given the astonishing rise of Google and the undoubted benefit that it has brought to the world and all of us in such a short space of time this could be really exciting.

I predict that the move to Alphabet will be successful and create value for shareholders, and hopefully the world. I’d also bet that Twitter will be an Alphabet company in the next 12 months!

Why the Ashley Madison hack has done amazing things for the brand

First published in Marketing Magazine 21st July 2015

The Ashley Madison hack is fascinating, says Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO at ClearScore, as it raises interesting questions about morality, marketing and privacy.

The Ashley Madison attack is the juiciest of all hacks so far perpetrated. This is not millions of dry boring credit card details only interesting to fraudsters. No, this is the details of 37m people who have, or want to have, affairs. Their details, including names, photos and even sexual fantasies could soon be up for public consumption.The group responsible for the hacking, the so-called ‘ImpactTeam’, have pitched this as a moral battle with them in the role of hero and Ashley Madison as the villains. The next few weeks will be fascinating to watch as the moral battle ebbs and flows.

Following the boost in brand awareness, the next test will be whether the consumer proposition is powerful enough to overcome brand distrust

As the morality play progresses, there is also a marketing war going on and it is being fought over three main fields of battle: brand awareness, consumer proposition and trust.

Every cheating cloud

The hack has done amazing things for the Ashley Madison brand. Previously a slightly illicit brand, now millions more people have heard of it and even better understand its offer.

If the hacked data is exposed to all there will also be millions of current users, lapsed users and suspicious spouses desperate to find out whether they or their partner has been exposed as a cheater. The publicity means Ashley Madison the brand gets an awareness boost and first interaction for “free”.

Following the boost in brand awareness, the next test will be whether the consumer proposition is powerful enough to overcome brand distrust.

What’s clear, whether you approve or not, is a platform which makes cheating more accessible is an attractive consumer proposition for some. But can it overcome the fact that any right-minded individual will now distrust the brand to keep their secrets?

Acceptable risk

In our world now of ubiquitous Tweeting, Facebooking and data in the cloud, I reckon for many the hack won’t make a jot of difference. They will continue to sign up in their millions and take their chances.

Once the acute coverage has died down, consumer irrationality will take over and they will conclude that Ashley Madison must have learnt its lesson and now be more secure and less hack prone. For lots of people, the power of the proposition will trump any brand distrust.

Of course, there is also the possibility that this could tank the brand

Of course, there is also the possibility that this could tank the brand. So I bet in the back rooms of Avid Media, the owners of Ashley Madison, they are already hatching a plan to rebrand and use the power of increased awareness of the proposition to launch afresh. Surely this contingency planning would only be sensible?

Criminal conscience

And finally what of the hackers? If you believe in their moral cause, then you should hope that they are pausing and thinking again about breaching the privacy of millions of not-so-innocent consumers. They may have the data but they don’t need to expose it.

You might hope if you want to see the end of a platform for cheating that they should be planning a denial of service attack to stop the Ashley Madison service from actually working.

This would be a much better way to achieve their aims but I suspect that really they don’t give a crap and just want to prove, yet again, that almost no IT system is hack-proof even those with the most salacious of personal information on them.

Whatever side you take, moral or marketing, and I hope you’ll share them here, there is no doubt that how you handle the worst of disaster situations, both looking for threat and opportunity, is in our hyper-connected world a must-do rather than a should-do activity for all marketers.

Rebranding lessons of hibu /

Over the last couple of weeks has been rebranding as hibu. This is the latest example, in a very undistinguished line, of such rebranding failures.

When the best a CEO can muster about his companies' latest rebranding is this quote below you know the company is in deep, deep trouble. 

'don't read anything into it….It doesn't have any pure meaning behind it. It needed to be short, easy to pronounce and to sound edgy and innovative. It doesn't mean a lot by itself, but if you turn the clock back, neither did Apple and Google or Yahoo!' 

Mike Pocock is the CEO of hibu which in the latest example of rebranding has became the new name for has been through at least a couple of major rebrands as it struggles to make any sense of it's Yellow Pages listing business model in the internet age. They recently acquired as a way of trying to help SMEs and their internet presence. hibu or as the company might have us write: hibü is the latest work from Landor – that purveyor of snake oil to companies with more shareholder money than sense. I am sure that the Landor team are seething as they read the quotes from the CEO on their beautiful retina displays. 

The rebranding of hibu illustrates some of the key mistakes that are made far too often as a company makes the decision to rebrand and change name: 

1. The new name doesn't mean anything to anyone:

This is most likely to have been dressed up as a benefit by the inventors of the brand hibu. It isn't. Given the companies massive financial issues they are not going to be able to afford a huge marketing budget to vest this meaningless word with brand associations. They may think that it is a positive move dropping all references and equity built up in or indeed Yellow Pages but to eschew these assets is foolhardy. The fact that they have gone for the immediate rebrand, rather than a phased approach, again make the journey to establishing the new brand very hard. The rebrand has very little logic – this taken from the hibu website exemplifies the problem: 

To meet the ever changing needs of our merchants and our consumers, we are transforming our business to be more digitally led. We are making it possible for our consumers to connect with our merchants how they want, whenever they want. We are developing innovative new products and a dynamic new brand signals that we are a digital business of the future. When people connect, communities thrive, and we are a vital connection in an ever changing world. That's why we have changed from Yell to hibu.

Now I may be missing something but this paragraph makes no sense as a logic for the rebranding. There is no reason why the move of the business into digital has delivered the name hibu, argubly is a more digitally led name. 

2. A brand optimised for the internet age and search?

I bet this was a big part of the pitch for rebranding. I'm sure Landor will have rolled out a 28 year old 'internet and search expert' to bamboozle the board with promises about how this name because of it's construction and newness was going to deliver exceptional power in ranking on Google. This is of course generally an absolute load of old tosh but is so common to hear now – it's the reason for the rash of names with a double "o" in them for example. There was an idea floating around that Google somehow favoured certain combination of letters because they were less competitive to rank on hence Ooyala and the like. The secret to ranking on Google is to deliver high quality content and make your pages search friendly – if anything non descriptive names make it harder to rank not easier. 

3. Lack of engagement from the top down?

From the comments from top management in the press they don't seem that committed to the rebranding and this makes me suspect that the organisation hasn't been engaged in the hibu rebranding process. This is the most common mistake that is made when trying to change a culture, a name, or a business model. It's the people within the organisation that should feel vested in the new name and making it's promises come alive. However most engagement processes start with the brand book or internal roll out campaign once all the decisions have been made. Rebranding and brand renaming needs to come from within and this requires engagement in the process from the very beginning. 

4. A brand name just trying too hard… 

Like Consignia or Monday, hibu is a name that is just trying too hard. I know that's a very difficult thing to substantiate but there is something in these names that come from a process that is vested in focusgrouping and whiteboarding – they lack authenticity. They are artificial creations rather than really coming from a place of organisational difference. Apple as a brand name works for that organisation (or it used to) because it encapsulates the "think different" logic that was Steve Jobs' brilliance. Google works because it somehow embodies the geekiness of that organisation based on algorithms, advanced maths and technology. hibu is just trying to be cool and doesn't embody any of the attributes of that organisation.

Given their latest results are flatlining I think rebranding is very unlikely to be the knight in shining armour coming along to rescue and somehow give meaning to the company. was a smart way of attempting to link the past with the future – it had a logic and could have had a personality. hibu doesn't mean anything to anyone and because of this it is facing an uphill struggle. 

What do you think of this rebranding and renaming? Do you like the name hibu? Leave a comment below and get involved. 



Business Vision: I was recently asked by a major corporation to prepare a talk on "Business vision" and how to create them. I told two stories one of Citigroup a massive bank and it's flawed vision and one about a much smaller clothing business Patagonia and it's inspirational leader. 

This screencast is a 20 minute version of the hour presentation buts gives you the key points of the stories. 

The key points illustrated by these compelling stories of success and failure around setting a business vision are: 

  • Business Vision requires leadership that listens and learns but can also lead from the front
  • Business Vision requires head and heart to be compelling
  • Business Vision needs to be creative but also pragmatic to be effective 

Here is a great article from about creating business vision that is well worth reading. 

What do you think of business vision?

What do you think about business and brand visions? Do they inspire you to feel great about the business you work in or run and it's business vision? Leave a comment!

If you want to see the full presentation including the videos then visit the presentation on

You can also see me speaking here.

Want me to speak at your business or team event? I regularly speak about trust, business vision, brands, marketing or a wide range of topics tailored to your event – please get in touch.



At last! My book Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU? available on Kindle

trust kindle

I am delighted to say that at long last my book – Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU? is available as a Kindle edition.

Now you can read all about how trust works, what you can do to create, nurture and capture it on your favourite e-reader. For more information on Why Should Anyone Buy from YOU? including videos, praise and free chapter click here.


This article was published first in the Financial Services Forum’s Argent Magazine – Autumn 2011.

What are Banks for, if not to feather their own nests?

If we truly want to address the trust issues in financial services, I believe we need to ask some deeper, more fundamental questions about the nature of trust and what we’re here to do, individually and collectively.


The first step, especially following the turbulence of the past few years, is to recognise how complex an entity trust is – easy to feel but difficult to understand. The brand and industry trackers show trust going up, down and sideways – there’s little consistency. In reality, while we haven’t seen people pulling their money en mass from banks or more switching from one brand to another, it feels as if the standing of financial services brands is at a low point.


To understand what’s going on means recognising the distinctive layers in the concept of trust:


Functional trust underscores how well an industry or product group works to deliver a functional benefit. Here, banking actually continues to score highly and trust levels have actually increased – even more so since the government proved it would stand behind the banks. We all trust that a bank will work to deliver core commodity functions reliably.


Affective trust is where financial services companies have a real problem. Very few people have affective trust in financial services brands and virtually no-one trusts the top bankers who serve as figureheads for our industry. They’re seen as defensive and self-serving. All the TV and newspaper advertising behind the message “We’re ordinary people working for you”, doesn’t move the needle, despite what a brand tracker might say. These messages are perceived to be superficial, actually creating more mistrust and frustration with our industry.


It’s galling for a consumer to hear these advertising messages while also hearing a CEO defend massive bonus payments or threaten to leave the country when taxes are discussed. People integrate these messages. In our hyper-connected and hyper-transparent age, consumers assess brands and business on a range of competing dimensions to get very near the truth.


The trust in business, and the banking industry especially, that people used to have and that gave a legitimacy to our commercial activities has been decreasing alarmingly in the West. Business leaders are now seen as “doing the right thing” by only 20% of the population.


And there’s now clear evidence that commanding deep trust is a hard business issue, not a soft, intangible matter to be addressed through superficial communications alone.  It’s already directly impacting balance sheets and business models – just look at the cost of compensating for this lack of trust through vastly increased capital requirements or the ring-fencing of retail operations suggested by the Vickers report. All because we as an industry are seen not to be worthy of trust.


Against that background, most “normal” people are asking: What are financial services and especially our banks here to do, if it’s not just to feather their own nests? This assumption of self-serving goes to the heart of our business – and we will continue to suffer as regulators become more aggressive, spurred on by an increasingly frustrated and angry public.


However, those brands that truly commit to both social and commercial good, that contribute to social capital through their activities and that mobilise their workforce locally and authentically to take this message out – for them, these are the most exciting of trust-building times. Authentic, real, connected trust has always been at the heart of the profitable customer-financial services relationship. That’s why it receives so much attention, and why building it continues to be the right thing to do.


Read more about creating a sustainably trusted and trustworthy business and brand in Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU? (FT-Prentice Hall) by Justin Basini. It’s Available on Amazon and in all good bookshops.


In last week’s Marketing Week there was an article that I contributed an interview to called Beyond the Boardroom Walls written by Lucy Handley. It is well worth reading.

The central premise is that marketing can change behaviour positively and negatively. Using the skills, creativity and ideas of marketing it has the potential to make an important contribution to solving some of the issues that we face in our society and world.

I explored some of these trends and ideas in my recent presentation at the 3rd CMO Conference and in a presentation I co-authored with Tom Farrand from Pipeline called the True Value of Brands. Both can be seen at my slideshare site.

If you have ideas or thoughts on these issues or the social role of marketing then please comment below.

If you want to stay in touch with the latest in marketing and brand re:thinking then please sign up to the RSS or email feed – it’s free and easy.


Mail me:
My website & the RE:Thinking Marketing & Brands blog:
Follow me:


A really good piece of communication from Virgin Media pinged into my email box yesterday. Thanks to those of you who also emailed me about it (Dan & Lisa).

Firstly the following email arrives with the subject heading “Wow you’re amazing”:

Then you click through to a cute little animation that ends up with a cute thankyou message


The messaging is all about HDTV, the addition of new channels and a new guide to HD. What’s great is it’s short snappy and isn’t selling anything apart from the virtues of Virgin Media.

This is a great example of loyalty communications delivered through a channel that is lower impact in terms of the environment (i.e. no direct mail), and engaging without being demanding.

What do you think? Why not post a comment below?

If you want to stay in touch with the latest in marketing and brand re:thinking then please sign up to the RSS or email feed – it’s free and easy.


Mail me:
My website & the RE:Thinking Marketing & Brands blog:
Follow me:


I have just finalised and agreed my topic at the 3rd annual CMO Conference in Zurich on 30th September which will be:

Leadership in Marketing: from shareholder value to stakeholder value

I’ll be covering the following questions.

  • How do businesses and brands build and rebuild the trust of consumers and society?
  • How do businesses and brands respond to the changing landscape of needs?
  • What is the role of brands and marketing in answering the challenges of sustainability?
  • How do we as leaders put humanity back into business outcomes?

I’m hoping the session will be thought provoking and interactive. I will explore several significant leadership challenges for business, brands and CMOs namely the need for more balanced outcomes from business as we move from a ruthless shareholder view to building stakeholder value. The battle for leadership in business and brands is increasingly being fought on a landscape that is intrinsically linked with sustainability and transparency in an effort to build and rebuild the trust of people and our society.

The session will include a presentation of the findings of my in depth study
into trust, humanity and sustainability, case studies of emergent best
practise and discussion amongst the group around some fundamental strategic questions.

I hope to see you there but if not then sign up to my RSS or email feed – it’s free and easy – and you will get a copy of my presentation with audiocast.



Mail me:
My website & the RE:Thinking Marketing & Brands blog:
Follow me: