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Salesforce logo marc benioffFor all of you entrepreneurs out there, here is CEO Marc Benioff's account of the salesforce.com branding exercise that led them to grow from start-up to the company we are now. This is an excerpt from Marc Benioff's book "Behind the Cloud."

When starting any new initiative,  I like to seek the insight of the brightest minds. My “go to the guru” approach led me to hire Bruce Campbell to help brand salesforce.com. Bruce is one of the best admen in the business. He branded and launched Saturn, was part of the “Tuesday Team” for President Reagan’s Morning in America TV campaign, and helped in rebranding public television, Bank of America, and the Gallo Winery. I shared with him our “End of Software” mission, and he came to me with an idea for a NO SOFTWARE logo (the word SOFTWARE in a red circle with a line through it; think Ghostbusters). It was perfect. It was simple. It was sexy. It was fun. I especially liked that it fit on a button. I also appreciated the phone number it inspired, 1-800-NO-SOFTWARE, which provided customers an easy way to find us.

Although I loved the NO SOFTWARE logo immediately, almost everyone else hated it. It was important to find out everyone’s reasoning, and my trusted advisers made some valid points. “It violates the number-one rule of marketing: never promote yourself with a negative message,” our PR team explained. Others were concerned that we would alienate customers. As they pointed out, many of our customers were software companies. Further, members of the press tended to get bogged down in semantics. “It’s not accurate,” they said. “You still make software; you just deliver it differently.”

Given these concerns, even the people on the salesforce.com team believed that moving forward with this slogan and logo was a disastrous idea. In fact, the staff tried to ignore it, hoping that it would disappear. Although research and logic were behind some of their concerns, I felt that their arguments were overruled by the most important rule in marketing—the necessity to differentiate your brand. Our differentiators were ease of use, a business model of shared risk, and low-risk commitment—everything that software was not.

The End of Software mission and the NO SOFTWARE logo effectively conveyed how we were different. I put the logo on all our communications materials and policed it to make sure no one removed it. (They did so anyway.) I wore a NO SOFTWARE button every day and asked our employees to as well. (They did so, somewhat reluctantly.) It wasn’t just the logo that we used, our gonzo PR strategies (more on those later) were also tactics that served our differentiation strategy.

In an effort to further raise the collective consciousness about our war against software, I created a provocative advertisement with a fighter jet shooting a biplane. The jet represented our company, which was built on the most advanced technology and was a vast improvement on anything that came before it. The biplane was a metaphor for the software industry: obsolete and ill-suited for its task.

The inside story is that I stole this entire concept from Larry Ellison and Oracle. Previously, Larry had commissioned an advertisment with Oracle as the fighter plane taking down its database competitors, which were depicted (you guessed it) as biplanes. I knew that an updated version would pay homage to my origins and serve as the perfect vehicle to introduce our cutting-edge End of Software campaign. After receiving permission from Rick Bennett, the advertising genius behind the Oracle ad, I hired the same artist Oracle had used, to create an illustration for us. Our advertising agency thought the illustration was silly, but I had previously seen it effectively convey an important message. With a hunch that it could succeed again, I turned it into an advertisement for salesforce.com.

I showed the ad to Michael Liedtke and Jessica Guynn, reporters at the Contra Costa Times, who wrote a spirited weekly business column called “Synergize This.” They immediately appreciated the concept and understood that we were a different kind of company on a mission to disrupt the way things were done.

It was a surprise even to me, however, when the Times ran the advertisement as art on the front page of the business section along with an editorial feature on salesforce.com and The End of Software revolution. The newspaper included the entire color advertisement without our having to pay a cent for it! It was a coup in the ad business and a major triumph for our company. Bruce Campbell couldn’t believe it. He had thought the fighter jet ad was ridiculous. Imagine his surprise when the Contra Costa Times, his hometown paper, was delivered that morning! All of this made me very happy: we proved that differentiating ourselves was a powerful marketing strategy that worked. (As far as the particulars are concerned, if the press loves it, so do I.)

The epilogue to this story is that the ad did run as an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, and its audacity drew even more attention to salesforce.com. The part I find most amusing is that no one except for Larry (and Rick Bennett) knew that I had stolen the concept from Oracle. Essentially, this was my way of bowing to Larry, who had taught me a tremendous amount. By allowing me to do this, Larry confirmed that he was truly my mentor, someone who encouraged me to take what I learned from him and elevate it to new heights.

Takeaway: Differentiate, Differentiate Differentiate

I love the NO SOFTWARE logo; it’s not our brand, though. “A logo is simply a graphic representation of a company,” says Bruce Campbell, the creator of the logo and our chief creative officer. “A brand is more. It has to be a collective set of memories.”

To be effective, a company’s brand must be consistent. A company must use its people, its products, and its messaging to consistently reinforce the same positive points it wants to demonstrate. A delivery service that promises to meticulously care about your packages cannot have dirty trucks. A bank that says it cares about its customers can’t have twenty people waiting in line with only two tellers on duty. Brands cannot break the promises they make. Broken promises destroy customers’ trust. That ruins everything.

A brand is a company’s most important asset. A company can’t “own” its facts. If the company’s facts (speed, price, quality) are superior to the competition, any good competitor will duplicate them, or worse, improve upon them, as soon as possible. What a company can own, however, is a personality. We own NO SOFTWARE—not because we are the only one doing it but because we were the first to think it was important to customers. By consistently delivering an attitude that is future focused and pioneering, we have created a personality. We act the way people expect us to, which has made them feel connected to us. It goes beyond logic. It’s an emotional attachment, and that’s an asset that cannot be stolen by any competitor.