What happens when a company’s identity lies in a state of constant change? The answer lies not in stock valuations, top lines or bottom lines. The answer begins and ends with perception: the perception of everyone who interacts with your brand.
As a small start up from South Dakota, Gateway 2000 offered made-to-order computers in the late 1980s, much like its rival, Dell Computer. Over time Gateway’s business model shifted (some might say drifted). The growing company opened retail outlets (many of the stores have closed), and even began producing consumer electronics. So why is it that this once high-flying company is now struggling? Why has Dell become the number two manufacturer of computers in the world, while Gateway’s position has slipped? The answer, at its root, is an overall identity crisis.
Gateway, in a vain attempt to stay “fresh” in the mind of consumers, has changed its identity four times in the last 5 years.The first re-brand of Gateway occurred in 1999, when the company dropped “2000”, adopted green as its signature color, and used a cow spot pattern box as its mark. This very clever identity communicated the company’s core value of friendliness through a serif type treatment, as well as the uniqueness of its products, which are shipped in cow spot boxes (also a tribute to the company’s farm heritage).
When Gateway began offering flat panel televisions, the company changed its brand in order to associate the new products with its identity. The cow spot print box mark was dropped in favor of a single cow spot that formed a “power on” button. The green “Gateway” was maintained; however, the type was compressed into a more impersonal, slab serif type treatment. While this new mark may have seemed more “modern”, it lost the friendliness and warmth of the old brand, as well as its uniqueness.
Realizing the mistake of such a huge evolution of their brand, Gateway dropped the “power on” button in 2004 but kept the new type treatment. And finally, in 2005 the company reintroduced a streamlined version of their original cow spot box mark. The new mark uses the same, three-dimensional box as the original logo, except this time the box looks more realistic and more refined. A sans serif typeface replaces the more personal serif type treatment in an attempt to be seen as more “modern” in the eyes of customers. And of course the signature green color has been maintained in an effort to “own” that color space among the computers product category.
Will the new Gateway logo and brand identity stick? Will they be able to convince their customers and share holders that they are the same, friendly company with consistent core values? Or is this constant identity flux indicative of a larger identity crisis, a lack of focus, a drifting business model? Will this thrashing about for a brand that works continue?
It seems that Gateway needs to learn that the actual visual form of their brand and logo does not make the company. It is the perceptions of the customer that are most important. And by changing your brand and identity over and over, all you are really communicating is that you are a company that doesn’t know who or what it is, and more importantly, if you will be there for your customers in the future.
By: Ryan Hembree, Creative Director
NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.