Is a Company Tattoo the Ultimate in Branding?

You love your company. You love its culture, its people, its products. And you feel great coming to work every day.

But would you get the company’s logo tattooed on your arm?

Michael Long did. And he only officially become an employee at tech hosting company Rackspace this month.

Here he is, though, at last week’s South By Southwest getting his tat as bemused onlookers take pictures.

The tagline on the video sums things up pretty neatly: “Fanatical! has now been defined.” That’s a double entendre, describing Long’s personal commitment and Rackspace’s corporate culture. Everywhere on the company website you find references to Fanatical Support, a mission as much as a slogan that Rackspace takes so seriously it’s registered it as a trademark.

I tried to get a hold of Long and his boss, Rackspace SVP Wayne Roberts. But no luck. I wanted to talk about the tattoo of course. But I also wanted to know how the company developed the kind of culture it did. Not everyone (hardly anyone?) will get a logo tat, but in developing the company’s new talent portal, Rackspace opened up the project to its employees. It crafted the core values statement, says Long, who was a consultant to the project.

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You might know Long better as The Red Recruiter, progenitor of The Red Shoe Project. The project raises awareness, particularly in the recruiting community, for a San Francisco non-profit, My New Red Shoes, which provides indigent kids with new school clothes.

Since last September, Long has been consulting with Rackspace to develop its new recruiting site. (It was an ERE awards finalist three years ago for the best site.) He became so taken with the company, that when he was asked to take charge of its social recruiting and branding efforts, he said yes. Racker Talent launched earlier this month, and, as Long says in a blog posting, it’s a talent portal, not merely a career site.

“We wanted to create something that would allow future Rackers to peer through the window and gain an understanding around what the culture at Rackspace really meant,” he blogged. “The hope being that once they had a chance to see it, they would be more inclined to engage in dialog about potential opportunities.”

Racker Talent is still being developed. The pictures of the people at work and play will be supplemented by videos; the blog posts will grow. But the fundamentals of an engaging site are there. When you see the pictures of CEO Lanham Napier flexing in a Rackers t-shirt (red, coincidentally … or not) at SxSW, you certainly get the impression that there’s nothing starchy about this company. You certainly get to peer through the window.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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16 Comments on “Is a Company Tattoo the Ultimate in Branding?

  1. I have a Head2Head logo tattooed on my back.

    Well, it’s not the whole logo – just one of the orange heads (go to http://www.Head2Head.ca – see that orange head thing in the logo? that’s it).

    How did it happen? Well, we held a networking event/party at a new club downtown a couple of years ago; it was called the Tattoo Rock Parlour. As you might expect, this was an ‘upscale’ club with a tattoo parlour attached.

    Turned out, the night before, Nike had held an event there, and had offered to pay for anyone who wanted to get a Nike tattoo. So the president of Head2Head – Paul Dodd – offered the same thing.

    I don’t think he thought anyone would take him up on it, but one of the senior salespeople and I both did (yes, we were basically sober). He got a blue head on his foot; I got an orange one on my back.

    I’d never had a tattoo before, so it was perhaps an odd choice, but I don’t regret it. I’ve been the marketing director for H2H for several years now, and have been involved in building the brand more or less since the beginning, so I kind of like the fact that I’ll always have a reminder of the brand.

    (Of course, in my more cynical moments I reflect that “I’ll never get Head2Head off my back…”)

    I have to say, the reactions I get from new employees – with whom I do orientation – are quite funny. I don’t think they can quite believe that someone loves the company enough to get a permanent record on their body. But on the other hand, it says a lot about a company when the people who work there are willing to get tattoos.

  2. Jeremy, that is awesome . . . just awesome!

    Pulling from my own experience in the Marines, most of us had some form of USMC tattoo – not that they would say USMC per se’, but the art in some way would be reflective of serving as a U.S. Marine. If you made your way into Special Forces, it was practically guaranteed you’d be branded. When I say ‘branded’, I mean literally branded (think fire and metal)!

    Another common tat was what we called “meat tags”, or a tattoo under the armpit on the rib cage. This way, the body could be identified should it need to be – no kidding on that.

    In terms of Corporate America, I’ve never known someone to put a permanent tattoo on their person – I guess you could always have it covered with your new employer when you inevitably move on.?. 🙂

    That being said, Kudos to Rackspace for having such a culture that people would tat themselves up as a sign of loyalty. There must be some serious espirit de corps there, and while their employees aren’t fighting back-to-back in Afghanistan or Iraq, I’d say it’ even harder in Corp America to build some a culture of brotherhood (and sisterhood).

    P.S. By the way, if you’re trying to recruit young people, what better way than to show how dedicated someone is “to the cause”? I mean, having employees getting tat’d up is a sure sign of differentiation!

  3. We have been happy customers of Rackspace for many years essentially for their high level of support.

    Rackspace, Apple, South West Airlines, to name a few, are companies that have clearly articulated their reason for existence, their WHY. That clarity (which is quite rare) attracts employees who share that mission and who *naturally* convey that Why to the customers in What they do and How they do things. This in turn attract customers for whom that Why resonates. Like me with Rackspace, such customers are more loyal and are willing to go an extra mile for the company.

    Interesting to note that the employees and the customers are doing this for themselves, because of their own beliefs and because of what their allegiance to the company is telling about them. (Notice the pride of Mac customers)

    There are many lessons to be learned about this for both employers / advisors as well as candidates. I started writing about this at:
    http://www.mba-exchange.com/blog.php

    I find this entire topic most interesting. I would love to hear your thoughts / feedback.

    Bilal Ojjeh, CEO
    http://www.mba-exchange.com
    http://www.careernomics.com

  4. Rackspace from Glassdoor:

    Company Rating Based on 81 ratings: 3.7 “Satisfied”

    CEO Rating Based on 69 ratings
    “Do you approve of the way this person is handling the job of leading this company?”
    86% Approve
    14% Disapprove

    A. Lanham Napier
    President, CEO, and Director
    86% Approve

    Reviews are posted anonymously by employees (updated Mar 18, 2010)

    Recent Awards & Accolades
    Employees’ Choice -50 Best Places to Work, Glassdoor, 2010
    Best Companies to Work for in Texas (Large), Best Companies Group, 2010

  5. This article was so popular I decided to write my own blog post about what it’s like to actually have a company logo tattooed on your body: http://bit.ly/9yBKGT

    I was a little surprised that 85% of the responses were that I was ‘nuts’ to do it. As human beings, most of us want to ‘belong’ to a tribe or clan or group or whatever, but for some reason people are weirded out when you say that your ‘tribe’ is your workplace, because work isn’t supposed to be that important to you and you’re not supposed to be so emotionally engaged with work.

    But my feeling is this: You spend a third – or more – of your life working. Shouldn’t you enjoy it enough to become emotionally engaged with it?

    I think of it this way: In an average 24-hour period, I spend 9 hours working, 8 hours sleeping, and 2 hours doing routine things like showering or making the bed. If I’m not emotionally engaged with my work, that leaves me with only 5 hours a day to be emotionally engaged with my life!

  6. Sarah, a few thoughts:

    1. People in “Corporate America” are not bonding to a level with their co-workers that they feel the desire to brand their bodies with their corporate logo. That doesn’t mean there isn’t espirit de corps, however. With us reaching approximately 40% (4/10) of our workforce being contract in the U.S., this leaves 60% (6/10) employed workers that are technically f/t employees. Assuming a max 6/10 possibility, how many would be actually willing to tattoo themselves up?

    2. It’s common in the military to get a tattoo, particularly within Special Forces, but we’re talking an all-volunteer force. In addition, military members bond through extreme and, in many cases, life-threatening scenarios. Where companies take a 3-day retreat once a year, certain military units (Marines, for example) live the “extreme retreat”. Plus, bullets aren’t flying and people aren’t trying to kill you at a 3-day co-worker marshmallow-roasting, “Kumbaya” session.

    3. I believe there is a generational component here – I doubt anyone over the age of 30 is tattooing a company logo on their body. They’ve probably learned enough about how “Corp America” really works to brand themselves with the logo for life. So if we’re talking <30 having a higher probability of tattoo'ing themselves up, we're no longer looking at a 6/10 maximum possibility.

    4. According to the BLS, the average tenure (2008 data) of those aged 25 – 34, have an average job tenure of 2.7 years. That's about 4 tats every 10 years – what if you start running out of room?

    5. I have to ask, are these tats designed to be displayed for all to see? I can't see someone tattoo'ing a corporate logo in a discrete, secret place where nobody else can see it. Seriously, what would be the point?

    6. To my previous point, is it ok to tattoo a company logo on your head? What about the neck? In the wintertime when long sleeves are the norm, you wouldn't be able to show the tattoo off, so you'd be stuck resorting to company swag shirts that have a logo ironed or screen-printed on.

  7. People can’t help themselves with the need to be tribal and tattoos are just one expression of that.

    The incomparable emotional behaviour of employees and customers tattooing themselves with a brand logo is an example of the very thing smart businesses would love to bottle.

    The brands and businesses that are succeeding have strong beliefs and strong tribes that follow them.

    At NBT (www.newbrandtribalism.com) we’re a consultancy who are building a knowledge community about Tribes in the 21st Century. We look to the notion of “belief” as the major factor in brand sustainability, power and performance.

    Those brands that are competing purely on price, product or service are in a race to the market’s bottom, whereas brands that embrace their brand tribes and can influence them in a positive way will enjoy sustainable advantage at the top.

    Check us out and find out more about the community at Newbrandtribalism.com

  8. Great chatting with you John!

    Thank you for taking the time to check out our new talent portal and for writing up this article.

    I figured that there might be some speculation as to my motives behind getting a tattoo. The truth is, joining Rackspace had a major impact on my life in a very positive way. I’ve decided to write a post explaining what led up to it.

    http://www.theredrecruiter.com/random/just-live-it/

    Hopefully this puts some sense around this seemingly random act.

    Have a great weekend!

    Michael

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