Monday 13 October 2014 7:19 am

HP breaking in two: Is this good for the brand?

Simon Massey is global chief executive of strategic branding consultancy The Gild.

Simon Massey is global chief executive of strategic branding consultancy The Gild.

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So, Hewlett Packard is splitting its brand in two, HP on the consumer side and Hewlett Packard on the B2B side. From a corporate structure / investor perspective it's a clever move, but from a branding side it is fraught with challenges.
When building a strategy and positioning for a brand, one of the first places to look for inspiration and a foundation for the future is the brand’s birth and its heritage.
Obviously given that the brand HP is an acronym of Hewlett Packard, they are effectively born of the same origins. They share most of the same DNA and it is highly likely that at least in the immediate future they will feel and look like the same brand, all be it a different expression. There is no problem with this providing they stick to what they are doing now, but then what would be the point of the split?
Where it becomes dangerous is if they stay connected in the brand sense of the word, looking the same and understood to be siblings, but behave in opposing ways which damage each other.
Imagine that the PC division decides to focus on the youth market and make brightly coloured, throwaway technology that’s cool, but inexpensive. A bit like a top-up mobile phone, they’re only meant to last a year before the consumer moves on to the next version. So HP starts to stand for innovation and being culturally current, but also disposable and not meant to last.
That will not go down well in Hewlett Packard where the servers are huge expensive beasts that need to be serious, secure and infallible with a reasonably long life span. It’s the respected elder statesman with the rock and roll teenager ruining the family name. Neither would be wrong in taking those strategies for the good of the brand and investors and as separate businesses you’d imagine they’d be free to do so, but the damage to such closely connected brands could be disastrous.
The word from the management at Hewlett Packard is that the split will enable each business to become more deft and innovative as it is not hampered by the culture of the two different sides. I understand this and it seems to make sense – consumers are already excited about what the new HP will be able to do now it is free of its ‘old Dad’ side. But then of course there’s the worry that with ‘old Dad’ to pay the bills, the young HP will struggle. Only time will tell.
My recommendation given that the split has happened would be to try to steer a steady course of similarity until such time as the two companies are completely and utterly clear of each other, apparently in a year. At that point, I would push HP to be the innovative young one and Hewlett Packard to be the steady, reliable one.
But at the same time, I’d move the HP identity and behaviours in line, make it feel radically different and distant, carve a new path. Any activity would then be limited in damaging Dad and you never know, HP could become the new Apple because, let’s face it, Apple isn’t the new Apple anymore.