In his discussion of Yappers and Shippers, Tim asked an interesting question:
Is the tech industry in Silicon Valley in any sense a celebrity-driven culture? You know, in the sense that the film industry in Hollywood is celebrity-driven.
It didn't take but a few seconds before I commented:
Of course it is. Sometimes the celebrities are real people, sometimes products, and sometimes brands. In some cases you get all three in one organization, like Apple: Steve Jobs, iPod, and Apple. Or Google: Larry/Sergey, Search, Google.
Upon thinking about it a bit more, I've come to realize that having all three is a remarkably powerful combination. A famous company with a killer product and an authoritative celebrity face to associate with them both is golden. The three can feed off each other in very powerful ways. And I'd never really thought of it in these terms until Tim brought it up.
Based on what I've seen, the brand depends on the person (often the company founder or founders) and the product--especially early on. As products gain traction, companies grow. And when that happens, that's where things get tricky. More often than not, companies don't capitalize on their star(s) as much as they could.
Using the same two examples is interesting. Apple, in my mind, is the model of how to do this. Steve Jobs is the undisputed rules of Apple, literally and figuratively. What he speaks, it becomes gospel. I'm hard pressed to think of anyone else at the company who comes remotely close to his "authority" on anything related to Apple.
Google is a similar case. Early on, Google was inseparable from Larry and Sergey. The company seemed, quite literally, like an outgrowth of them. They have one of the most famous brands in the world and a killer product that's clearly number one. But now when they need to speak authoritatively on something, Larry and Sergey are strangely absent. Instead they trot out Eric or Marissa. It's an interesting choice they've made.
Technorati is another example. While it's hardly a household name today, it has a loyal following, great product, and Dave Sifry (again, the founder).
If I knew anything about business history, I'd be tempted to see how this played out in the early automotive industry. Cars (and car companies) seem to inspire the sort of passion and devotion among their owners that many people associate with their favorite technology products, brands, and people.
And where's Microsoft in all of this?
Posted by jzawodn at December 30, 2005 07:53 PM