In Essays, Innovation

Earlier this month, Intel rolled-out a new logo and graphics color scheme. It deserves new actions to walk the talk.

Its announcement came replete with all the “right” words about what the branding meant. The company is “a catalyst for world-changing technology,” it is “[making] a leap into the future,” and pursuing a growth strategy for AI, 5G, and other popular buzzwords in order to “do something wonderful” and “create a more responsible, inclusive and sustainable world.”

The company already knows it needs more, noting:

“We know a new brand won’t come to life with new colors, sounds and logo; it needs to be a unifying rally cry built on action and aligned with our company purpose. We recognize that only through time and a continued track record for excellence and delivering for our customers will we share and define ourselves.”

In other words, the branding is the cart before the horse, only we don’t even know if it’s going to be a horse, donkey, 4-wheeler, or alien surfboard.

Or a Model T, if Intel’s current situation is directionally relevant.

Intel all but started the PC revolution and its chips have been pushing the edge of processing power for mainstream computing since the 1970s. Its products are in just about everything, everywhere. It employs over 100,000 people and grossed over $70 billion last year, or just about half of the revenue of its largest 9 competitors combined.

In other words, it’s a huge, lumbering target that must defend its positions in numerous markets while its competitors can pick and choose where, when, and how they attack.

Suggestions that it possesses some “heritage of innovation” or record of world-changing activities is like saying that an old person has a “heritage of having been young once” and vaguely remembers having done cool stuff. Its CEO’s recent passionless defense of desktops/laptops as somehow positioned for the future, which they’re not, doesn’t cut it.

So we’ve got the new cart. Now what?

My fear is that we’ll get more of the same, highfalutin babble that came with the branding announcement. Intel will announce incrementally improved products and ink new or renewed partnership deals with every tech brand you could name. It will flood the mediasphere with content — it has an endless number of outlets for news, blogs, videos, and speaking platforms — and the only thing it’ll all have in common will be some boilerplate references to the above mentioned branding babble.

It won’t be self-evidently credible or meaningful, though lots of senior execs will say so in their finely crafted PR quotes. It will reference itself as “a leader” as if doing so made it true.

Worse, I fear that “strategy” will get conflated with business news and will continue to focus on sales forecasts and results. “Selling more stuff” isn’t strategic, wherever and however it’s targeted, and no sales rationale is powerful enough to pull a kid’s wagon, let alone that branded cart.

My dream is that it would come up with some illustrative activities, not words, that warranted a second look from customers, partners, and potential employees. Doing so would take reimagining PR as a driver of operational action, not just the window dressing on those aforementioned legitimate but wholly uninspiring business decisions.

Here are three examples of what I’m dreaming about:

First, it could lead on some big, hairy issue, and my vote would be for cybersecurity. If Intel created a new threshold for software and/or silicon-level chip security it would be the de facto standard for the entire industry. Maybe it would rely AI, human oversight, and/or involve a number of its business (i.e. perspective and resources its competitors don’t have). I’d throw a bunch of engineers at a Manhattan Project-styled crash campaign to do it, and then narrate its setbacks and progress. Now that would be purpose.

Second, it could declare the PC/laptop idea dead (and then rename it). Make a big stink about the end of an era and announce the next one, full of specific new uses for the greater processing power only available in those configurations…which have been renamed: Desktops are exclusively workstations or communications centers and laptops are mobile controllers or whatever. And then invent new configurations for its chips, and encourage new software that requires all that processing heft. Smart furniture. Devices that merge gaming experiences with daily calendar management. Put a swat team of smart people on it and talk about their great and silly ideas.

Third, get active in really visionary, far-out stuff. Where is Intel on quantum computing? What will make quantum computing yesterday’s news (could it be intelligent biochips or processors that run on tachyons)? Intel should be involved in more failures than successes, if only to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s even conceivable, let alone possible. Where’s the cross-industry platform tasked with inventing a statistical successor to Moore’s Law, so maybe something that addresses the very core of our relationship and future with tech (or maybe something about AI)? Think less business plan next quarter and more Hari Seldon’s Foundation.

Intel is aware that it’s facing a reinvention moment, a point of inflection for its business. The new branding is the easy response, but it says nothing other than “stay tuned.”

What comes next must be actions, and my hope is that they’ll blow our minds.

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