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Big Tech's Branding Problem

They flipped the "on" switch at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva earlier this week, and the lights didn't even flicker. After 15 years and $9 billion, the thing might not work for years, if at all.

They flipped the "on" switch at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva earlier this week, and the lights didn't even flicker. After 15 years and $9 billion, the thing might not work for years, if at all.What does this say about the prospects for "big tech" projects, whether for research or commerce? I don't think it communicates anything particularly good, nor is it terribly surprising.

Remember the nicks in Hubble's mirror? How about the outsourced parts for Boeing's 787 that don't quite fit together? No space shuttle or nuclear reactor gets built without being outdated the moment it's finished. "Big" risks becoming synonymous with "old," along with "doesn't work," and could get inexorably attached to "don't do."

From what I've read, the LHC is a mess.

Thousands of magnets need to run at a temperature just shy of Absolute Zero, and they're rife with bad splices. They also don't work like they're supposed to -- it has been characterized as "a mystery" -- and there are many thousands of magnets to worry about. Who knows if we should blame human error, some level of entropic gremlin activity, or visitors from the future bent on keeping us from destroying the Universe.

It doesn't matter; the thing has been branded a potential failure, or at best, a disappointment. It can change that perception if it gets working and discovers the secret of existence. But there are things marketers could do to help it in the meantime, or apply to any big tech project now in development, to get and keep public support:

First, manage expectations better. Branding is about making promises that you can keep. A big "it works/it doesn't work" moment is not a high-percentage gamble.

Second, provide more involvement. The LHC website is about as friendly as an eye exam. Where are the social media apps that let people get engaged in the process?

Third, promote the process. Big tech projects do lots of things, by definition, not just one, so why not position it as a journey? [email protected] was utterly different, but the focus on process could be something for others to emulate.

Whatever they do, the folks behind the LHC have just made it a lot harder to sell the next big tech project, haven't they?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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