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Business Management

Moto, AOL and the tech brands that time forgot

Slowly, the familiar landscape changes and the old signposts are removed so the visitor from years ago can no longer navigate through the changes. Lenovo is dropping the Motorola brand in favour of Moto by Lenovo in what looks like an edging out of what was once an iconic marque. The company that was the visual representation of dial-up connections being made, AOL, meanwhile is said to be considering ditching the name.

Motorola might have given us our first car radios and then the chips in our Mac computers and the brand at least gets a lease of life under Lenovo and in the emergency services and security space where Motorola Solutions continues to do fine and important work. As for AOL it feels like an old brand trapped in its time like a mullet haircut.

On the other hand the new brands get powerful fast: Google, Facebook, LinkedIn are still youngsters but for the generation born into the web they are as familiar as yonder hills, the sun and the moon. Such is the pace of change that first-generation web companies are now becoming naff or non-existent. The shutdown of Friends Reunited was cause for nothing more than reminiscence and there was a widespread perception that it had shut down years earlier. Who now can even remember Netscape, PointCast or QXL?

The building of brands might itself be an aging construct. We no longer expect companies to last for generations but to be usurped on a frequent basis, chewed up by newcomers in a never-ending changing of the guard.

Even a technology company from the ancien régime like IBM needs to refresh people’s notions of what the company stands for: hence ‘Watson’, an attempt to keep old positive associations of its founding fathers and blend that with the new world of analytics and machine intelligence. Tired of waiting for its old hardware partners, Microsoft is pouring money into the Surface name.

Brands are powerful signifiers but they don’t stand still for long. Google has one of the world’s great brands but it thought nothing of becoming Alphabet – this not the way a GE, GM or Ford would have worked. In five years, the stock markets will be full of brands the vast majority of us don’t know today. As business speeds up and market change becomes a constant thrum perhaps we will have to reinvent the old notions of brand building entirely.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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