What the Surface Studio Teaches About Brand Identity

Think about brand identity and brand image for a minute. When you define what you brand is all about, through your marketing efforts and product design, you’re also defining who you want your target customer to me. It dictates how you approach the market and what segment of the market you want to capture.

Swedish automaker Volvo, for example, has a long history of making vehicles that are perceived as safe. If you want a car that’ll get you around town in the safest manner possible, a Volvo isn’t such a bad idea. Through this, though, Volvo has also developed a reputation for being boring. But its target demographic doesn’t really care about that. It just wants to be safe.

Switch over to Mazda and you’ll see an entirely different philosophy. It’s all about being youthful and having fun. It’s about that “zoom zoom” mentality. And when you look at Tesla, it’s all about being techie and innovative. Tesla wants to design the car of the future. The brand identities are quite clear… but they’re not set in stone.

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In October, Microsoft announced the Surface Studio. Then, Apple revealed the new MacBook Pro the very next day. These are two very different products — one is an all-in-one desktop PC with a touchscreen and the other is a laptop with a secondary function row with Touch ID — but they illustrate a very important point about branding, one that you can also apply to your Internet marketing efforts.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Microsoft had a decidedly dry personality. Everyone used Windows and Office on their boring beige boxes at work, because it was the machine of productivity. It wasn’t meant to be cool or hip or trendy. It was functional. It worked, because it’s what you used at work. It was about being effective and efficient.

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Contrast that to what Apple had been doing. It was the rebel. It dared to make a candy-colored iMac that didn’t look anything like the beige boxes that powered Windows. That sense of style over substance (not to say that Apple products lack substance) was key to Apple branding, right up to today when consumers scramble over a shiny new iPhone just because it’s a shiny new iPhone.

But these two product announcements show us that what was once boring and beige can be sleek and innovative. Dare I say the new Surface Studio looks really cool too and it really does change the way that we perceive what an all-in-one PC can be. It’s what the iMac could have been. It’s what the iMac once was. Microsoft is the innovative company that dares to stretch its limits now.

Contrast that to the new MacBook. It got rid of a bunch of ports, removed the traditional function row, tossed in a strip of a touch-sensitive panel, and called it a courageous new Macbook Pro. It’s not innovative, per se. It’s really more of the same, but people are still going to buy it. At least for now.

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People who love Apple products will likely continue to love Apple products for the foreseeable future, but the company is not what it once was. We’ve seen the aluminum unibodies for a very long time now and instead of quantum leaps in design and function, we get incremental updates… like what Microsoft used to do.

And fans of Microsoft products no longer have to be apologetic about their choices. We’ve seen what the company has done with Windows 10 in changing public perception and this has been further extended with the Surface line. No one wants a Windows Phone (yet), but a Surface Pro? A Surface Book? A Surface Studio? These are all cool and hip and innovative.

They show that even if you have decades of history behind you, even if you’ve had a reputation for being beige and boring and nerdy with a pocket protector working out of a sterile cubicle-filled office building, you can push your limits and completely change your public brand image.

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