When buzzwords hurt your brand

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I am a big believer in simple and clean. One of the great reasons so many cloud services have taken off is that, even if under the covers they are complex to implement, to the user they are simple and clean.

One of my favourite such services over the past few years has been FreshBooks. They solve a very real headache for many business owners, especially professional services firms, and do it in a clean and simple way. To boot, their branding is perfect: it is "fresh", it eliminates your books problems, it even makes your books "fresh," hence FreshBooks. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that FreshBooks is a cloud service, that it eliminates a lot of accounting headaches, but it doesn't pretend to be stodgy like Intuit's QuickBooks (which was once considered very cutting-edge) or your local accountant, let alone a Big Four (or whatever they have consolidated down to) CPA firm.

Which leaves me confused why I received an email in my inbox yesterday from the CEO and co-founder of FreshBooks that, going forward, FreshBooks service will be "Cloud Accounting." The service won't change; the focus of the company on the business user experience won't change; in fact, very little will change. So why the rebranding? To boot, it is not even clear if the service will now be called "Cloud Accounting," or the company itself will be rebranded. The only thing worse than a bad brand is a confusing brand.

I can only surmise that one of two things happened:

  • Some consultant, or new Marketing exec, sold them on the idea that if they use "Cloud" in their name, then they will really look good and take off. OR
  • Someone decided they needed to raise VC, and many VCs are hot into anything "cloud," so let's rebrand it.

At the same time, they didn't quite want to give up the very popular and clean "FreshBooks" brand, so they went halfway. There is an old Yiddish saying, "nisht ahein, nisht aheir," roughly translated as, "neither here, nor there," but with the connotation of, "make up your mind already!"

FreshBooks has an excellent brand and following. Perhaps they need a revenue boost, or to grow into different markets; I am not privy to inside info. But to this observer with real market experience, this appears like a badly advised move that was poorly executed.