IBM – Could it be a more fashionable brand? Does it need to be?

Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter: “Can anyone offer a reason why a brand like IBM couldn’t be fashionable to consumers?” – This followed my post yesterday (here new list of top 100 brands) where I showed that IBM has seen a decline in consumer data in Google and site visits etc even though IBM’s has seen amazing business success and great share price performance as a predominantly B2B company. Lots of data and graphs below.


There were some interesting responses to my question as you can see from Twitter.

 image image


The most interesting replies on Twitter came from IBM staff.
Great to see them entering the debate and great indicator that they are listening.





Now I hope no-one from IBM has taken any of this personally because I do know many people at IBM, I have worked with IBM on several projects and I have nothing but respect for them as a company… BUT in a hyper connected digital world, the definition of brand power has shifted in my opinion and Millward Brown’s placement on at #4 on the list of Global Power Brands does not assign enough emphasis on consumer data available through visible data sources and of course social media measurement. IBM – amazing niche B2B powerhouse and current success story, but a brand in decline in a world where conversations in a digital world count more than ever.

Yes, IBM have embraced social tools well, blogging actively etc but the conversation is still niche and focused on core product/services (take a look here and below). Whilst a general consumer may not be important to IBM’s bottom line and clearly they see this as less important (read tweet above) I feel there is a missed opportunity and other brands (including B2B) are performing way better in the digital space. In a hyper-connected world whether your brand engages consumers or not, brand sentiment still occurs and shifts. Consumers WILL express their feelings about brands in one way or another – and in a digital world where ‘whom you influence’ is critical for visibility consumers “not talking” about you is not necessarily a good thing. Consumers can drive your SEO, they produce your Wikipedia entry (normally in the top 3 links for most companies and brands) and often produce the home made video “starring-your-brand” on YouTube (AKA the worlds second largest search engine).

Social media is certainly an opportunity for companies to extend their brand and develop meaningful connections / trust with people outside normal reach, but IBM from data shown has not ignited the social landscape in the same way for example that Intel has did with projects like the Digital Drag Race last year .

IBM and Social Media – let’s have a quick squiz…

Here are the brand tags for IBM produced by consumers. (This is just a portion, click the image to see the full list).



Blogs featuring “Technology” Vs Blogs featuring “IBM” as a % of all blogs


Twitter Stream graphs for IBM (associated words in conversations).


There are 13,600 results in YouTube for IBM.
(…but what does the content say about the brand? The #1 result is from 2003!!!)



IBM’s share price (%yrs): Tick! Well done IBM.


IBM’s search volume in Google Trends (shows decline)


IBM’s estimated Traffic (Quantcast) – in decline (3yrs)


Demographics – Who visits IBM (Quantcast data)


See any surprises in above?

Oh I could go on forever dragging out stats, but nothing changes my mind. IBM whilst an amazing company are a great niche and successful corporate brand enjoying success throughout, but I find no data that tells me they belong 4th on a list of global power brands. I’m not saying they aren’t doing great things BUT they’re not talked about by consumers, they’re not innovating in the public eye, they’re not igniting conversations between influencers who could change some of the data I’m showing you above. Compared to the reach and influence of the big digital brands, they themselves as a brand became lost 3-4 years ago and the content reflects that clearly in environments like YouTube.

So back to the questions in the article.
Could IBM be fashionable, do they need to be?
My answer is Yes and Yes. (I don’t have to say how do I?)

In summary (and not just to IBM – this is for all brands):
Tomorrows brands will also be defined by what consumers are actually saying about you. Digital channels will ensure it. Don’t rely on your marketing depts, agencies and PR companies to change brand perception. Ignoring the mark being left in the digital space by consumers right now will affect your brand health tomorrow.

Footnote: Remember Google does not spend a single dollar on advertising – go figure why it’s the most trusted brand on the planet (and in this case I 100% agree with that ranking).

– eunmac (chief trouble maker, creative and also likes IBM, but not top 100 lists)

5 Responses to IBM – Could it be a more fashionable brand? Does it need to be?

  1. Raz Chorev says:

    mate, you’ve got too much time on your hands. obviously 😉

  2. Shadowfox says:

    IBM is a multinational computer technology and IT consulting corporation.

    Its consumers are: CEO’s who make the purchase decisions and IT professionals who maintain working systems. Please can I make clear IBM’s job is not to be fashionable as in an Apple, but be professional in all manners and provide outstanding B2B IT services. This is why I state that IBM deserves its position as 4th spot…..

    Details on IBM:

    IT Guys and CEO’s care about the same thing that Microsoft offers to the computing world which is reliability and the support.

    IBM has provided this and is renowned for being suit and tie after all it needs to look this way. That is brand value which corporations believe in, not individual consumers but corporations which spend billions of dollars to ensure proper support. THIS IS BRAND VALUE WHICH MADE IT 4TH.

    If we want to talk about IBM in the social space, IBM acts in the same manner as Microsoft to IT professionals providing Support across forums and direct contact rather than doing the blogging scope hence the reason why blogpulse is useless in this argument. Blog pulse does not measure participation in Forums especially on IBM’s main portal which defiantly is protected.

    IBM’s Social Community:

    Positive experiences from a Good Service spread better than just saying something can do something better! IBM does it well just open up your Game consoles to find an IBM chip 

  3. Caspian Smith says:

    …The following opinions are my own and don’t represent an official IBM viewpoint…

    Great post, Iain, and I think we’re in agreement that IBM’s brand will be stronger with more emotional content.

    However, I don’t think IBM will ever aim to be “fun” in the way that Apple is – and maybe that means it’ll never be as popular or fashionable. I don’t think that matters.

    Instead, I think IBM is a brand with a serious contribution to making the world a better place – and I look forward to more people knowing about that, for example:
    – supporting NASA on moon missions;
    – contributing to smart energy grids that will enable increased usage of renewable energy and reduce energy wastage and carbon emissions;
    – finding solutions to help conserve and protect the quality of drinking water around the world;
    – helping find cures for diseases like AIDS and others through the World Community Grid;
    – helping to better manage integrated transport systems to reduce carbon emissions and wasted time in traffic;
    – supporting the global banking system;
    – leading employment practices in the advancement of women, inclusion of people with a disability, and more…

    In all of the areas above we’re working with forward thinkers who want to make the world a better place – including influencers and the organisations who are getting it done.

    IBM’s internal focus on social media over the past few years has been intense, and I think you’ll start to see more and more of us engaging in these conversations outside of IBM in the years ahead.

    So, I hope you and your readers take another look at IBM … 😉

  4. Matt Moore says:

    So you have to remember that IBM have been removing themselves from the consumer space for a while. They sold their PC division to Lenovo. They are not Apple, Microsoft, Google or even Dell – nor do they want to be.

    An organisation needs to be focused on its customers not “consumers” in general. The question is not “Should IBM be fashionable?” but “Who should IBM be fashionable to?”

    IBM wants to be fashionable to C-level execs who award billion dollar infrastructure & outsourcing contracts. To these guys being seen as “solid” or “stodgy” is often a plus. Wacky people have a tendency to lose money.

    You may as well ask whether Leightons or Thiess wants to be fashionable to consumers.

    Saying all of that, IBM is such a big organisation that it has something of a split personality. It’s core problem is not that it is not fashionable, it’s that IBMers struggle to collectively express who they are and what they are for.

  5. That is a great post Iain, enjoyed reading it!
    I have worked in IBM for nearly 8 years, starting as a graduate out of Uni in Melbourne.

    I really enjoy working for IBM and am extremely passionate about how the digital world will shape the business landscape going forward. I spend much of my time at IBM engaged in the online world, through blogging, tweeting, being part of online communities, sharing ideas, thoughts and stories.

    I agree that IBM has plenty more to do in engaging outside the organisation in a meaningful way that will connect with a broader audience, but I believe it will come. I am doing my best as many others are, to inform, educate and encourage shifts in behaviours from our newest employees to our Executive team, with many excited and ready to engage online.

    Thanks for the post!

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