Archive for February, 2011

IBM’s Watson scores brand win on Jeopardy

I’ve been awakened from my blogging coma by IBM’s Jeopardy! Challenge.  In case you have also been in a coma, IBM’s Watson computer just trounced the two top Jeopardy! champs (legitimate smart guys).  It got the same information at the same time, inclusive of slang, turns-of-phrase, and jokes.  And while not perfect, it essentially won going away.

I’m probably the bazillianth person to write about this event, but my thoughts are not on the technological accomplishment (sure to become a staple of evolution-of-computing graphics), nor the imminent subjugation of humanity.  My mind is occupied by the coup de brand just delivered by IBM.

As IBM has become a services company and shed its PC business, it has become formless, lacking a physical representation.  Watson fixed that.  “Oh, IBM still makes great hardware.”

As computing has become a MIPS utility, IBM’s image as inventor of important things has faded.  Watson addressed that.  “Oh, I can imagine ten ways to use this IBM natural language and decision making capability.”

As the generation that witnessed IBM’s ascendency leaves the workforce (or this bodily state), the IBM image has become dated.  Watson made IBM current.  “Wow, it even knew that Eminem / Danger Mouse reference.”

And while the Smarter Planet campaign does a decent job of giving the brand some personality, it is still weighed down by stodginess.  Watson made IBM cool and approachable.  “That’s funny, Watson couldn’t get Voldemort, but it smoked ‘em on Sauron.  And look at that, most of those IBM geniuses have Macs.”

One of the things I enjoyed about my eight years at IBM is that we occasionally did something big.  Watson is big.  Years from now, people will talk about IBM’s Jeopardy! win.  They probably won’t talk about branding, but they will still be experiencing it.