Merck KGaA's "rebranding"

The first rule of branding is you don't talk about your branding. Because branding isn't what you say you are, it's what you show you are. Your various incidental features, like logo, fonts, colors, verbal style, data dashboard layout, and trade show booths, are just ways of giving some memorable physical features to who you are.

But I'm kind of old fashioned, and as I've shown in the past, I don't show much respect for the entire gingerbread edifice of branding as it is practiced and discussed in modern business.

Merck KGaA has just done some tidying up of its international divisional names, and given itself a new 3D logo and some new fonts. So, on the front of its website, it says:

Which actually looks more like a sinister message from your new alien overlords in a 70s science fiction movie than like an invitation to understand Merck's new brand identity. It doesn't help that this weird font and the logo seem to be about it for the new look, for now, anyway. I declined an invitation to watch a little movie about it, because I'm just sullen and uncooperative that way. The rest of the site looks pretty much unchanged.

Now, in FiercePharmaMarketing, Merck's head of branding and communications strategy, Axel Löber, makes a really good point: every pharma site uses the same blue and has the same picture of employees in a lab, and you can't possible tell which site you are on. I made plenty of fun of that myself, when I was reviewing competitor websites for my own company's intended rebranding.  I'm just not sure this is the right solution.

Plus, pointing out that you're wearing a nice new jacket, isn't it cool, makes you look like a doofus. Other people are supposed to notice that new neoprene blazer, and compliment you on it. Merck clearly doesn't get out much.

This is going to sound kind of TED-talkish, but any new branding has to come from inside. It should manifest itself in your content, in what you say, how you say it, and how your employees present you to customers, and only then move out through page styles, fonts, and logo. But that's, like, really hard, and you always worry that no one has noticed. So you hire someone, do focus groups, have your senior leadership team argue about colors, and end up with, well, a logo and a wacky font.

Meanwhile, getting rid of corporate realist images of attractive goggle-wearing people looking earnestly at test tubes is going to be harder than they think. I'd love to do it, but coming up with something that conveys who you are, and what you offer, without being willfully strange, is a difficult, if fun, challenge. I'm beginning to suspect that Merck isn't up to it.