WHAT CAN BRANDS LEARN FROM IBM?

By

Lee Newham

Reading time: 2:30 min

THINK ISN’T JUST A LOGO, MEANINGLESS SLOGAN OR MARKETING VENEER. THINK ENABLED IBM TO HELP PUT MEN ON THE MOON.

And why branding is important for your workforce as well as customers.

IBM & THE ORIGIN OF THINK

THINK was the brainchild of Thomas J Watson in 1911. He came up with the motto after an uninspiring meeting when he was a sales manager at National Cash Registers (NCR) before he joined IBM. Watson said, “The trouble with every one of us is that we don't think enough. We don't get paid for working with our feet — we get paid for working with our heads". Watson then wrote THINK on an easel.

In 1914 Watson moved to another company; The 'Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company' (C-T-R). 10 years later, this became known as International Business Machines, or IBM as we know it today. C-T-R was a merger of 3 smaller companies that made punched card data processing equipment in different locations across the USA. To thrive, they needed to act and think as one entity with one set of values and beliefs. 

Watson realised that, at the dawn of computing, the machines his company were making could help people think. THINK would help tie the company together. THINK was even more relevant to his new company than the old one. THINK became core to the way IBM did things. 

Watson crafted a unique company culture at IBM (possibly the first time this had been done). It was an employee-centred approach with an open-door policy, opinions were valued at all levels and employees were treated well, more like a family. Watson was asked to explain what his mantra meant; "By THINK I mean take everything into consideration. I refuse to make the sign more specific. If a man just sees THINK, he'll find out what I mean. We're not interested in a logic course."

(CC) Photo Credit: Erik Michaels-Ober / https://www.flickr.com/photos/25243524@N02/4241861541

DISCOVERING THINK

In the 1970's, my dad, sporting a red-ish Hulk Hogan moustache, used to work for IBM fixing computers. This is when they looked like the ones Benny Hill reprogrammed in the original Italian Job (The blow the bloody doors off one, not the remake). Computers were massive metal cabinets full of tape, switches, relays and cables that went wrong and needed fixing. They looked incredibly complicated to a young kid like me, tagging along after he had been called out on an emergency on a Sunday in empty offices in Nottingham.

"What's that Daddy?" I asked.

On a pen was the word 'THINK'. 

Dad told me that every piece of stationery, pencil, folder or document said ‘THINK’ IBM on it. 

Thinking was still a human skill at the time. 

The years passed and Dad no longer worked for the company previously known as ‘International Business Machines’, flares and Mexican moustaches had made way for mullets and padded shoulders. But I still remembered 'THINK'. So did Dad. He said it made him feel like he was part of something…important.

This was around the time I started to become interested in design. I wanted to have that sort of positive effect on people. It made me realise that I wanted to become a designer.

THINK made me realise that design is about more than creating a logo.

(CC) Photo Credit: ArnoldReinhold / https://www.flickr.com/photos/12567713@N00/2662247465

THINK YOUR BRAND IS JUST FOR CUSTOMERS?

Think again.

THINK is an idea embedded in the heart of the company, that flows through every inch of the IBM brand. It empowers the workforce and makes employees at all levels feel valued. This changes how they approach and solve problems. 

That’s how, in 1969 IBM helped fulfil JFK’s dream of putting men on the moon and returning them safely to Earth. 

THINK isn’t just a logo, meaningless slogan or marketing veneer.

THINK enabled them to do it in the first place.

Thomas J Watson knew this over 100 years ago.

My Dad experienced it 50 years ago.

Your team should experience it today.


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