Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The Branding of a Browser

With new version of’s flagship browser, Firefox has a whole new name and a fresh visual branding effort to boot.

For the third and final time, The Mozilla Foundation (TMF) has changed the name of their stand-alone browser to Firefox, previously known as Firebird, and Phoenix before that. With the renaming comes an incremental update (0.8), and more interestingly, a refreshed branding strategy.

The update itself introduces some new functionality, like an improved download manager for multiple downloads, better support for file types and a few OS improvements, like a true Aqua theme for Mac OSX and a single-file installer for Windows.

The new brand strategy launching for Firefox is something The Mozilla Foundation has needed for some time, and is a result of the recently formed Marketing Team. John Hicks (of Hicks Design) developed the new logo, which is an attractive vector illustration that he has scaled exceptionally well down to a 16×16 icon. The design follows current icon design trends, and works equally well in a WinXP or OSX environment. This is accompanied by a set of advertising buttons fans can post on their site to promote the new release. Like this one:

Get Firefox

The Mozilla Foundation has stated they will make a concentrated “grass-roots” marketing effort for the new version. My belief is that Firefox and Mozilla’s true commercial success hinges on several influential factors. First, and by far the most important, provide a better browser than the alternatives. This, I think, has already been achieved; Firefox is fast, easy, intuitive and has a very low learning curve, meaning that IE veterans should be able to open the product and get to any site within seconds.

Now that it’s established that Firefox has the goods to back up the bravo, TMF needs to ramp up the marketing. David Shea of Mezzoblue has done an excellent job designing a modern, standards-based that takes advantage of all the proper CSS rendering the Gecko engine offers. Outside of peripheral resources like MozillaZine, this site is the headquarters of the product.

But the average Joe Windows who clicks around the web and lands on the site is being presented with very little marketing material to get him to download the rather bulky installers. While it is important to maintain a streamlined site with a clear path to the “downloads” section, the presence of a little marketing “oomph” might go a long way in breaking some download records. For instance, as of today, the word “free” is only on the homepage once, in washed-out type halfway down. This is insane. The single most effective word on the web is being lost under a weak description, some truncated bullet points and links to donate.

I am a big advocate of alternative browsers, and I constantly encourage people to try technologies beyond MS. Most recognize that MS has way too much influence on their desktops and are willing to give other (free) technologies a try if for no other reason than to make Gates work a little harder for his next billion.

With all the press Firefox is getting, now is the time to make critical site changes to get people from the homepage to the download page, and ultimately use Firefox as their default browser.

Other issues crop up in brand inconsistency. Firefox is obviously the next step in generating a solid Mozilla “brand,” and it’s a good step. We know the imagery for Thunderbird is being updated to match, but I feel it’s far more critical to bring the Mozilla suite out of its dated, amateur look.

  1. Lose the dinosaur. Its stupid—not cute, not cool and certainly not a good mascot to build a professional brand around. It’s like the Christmas fruitcake—no one really likes it, yet we all feel guilty throwing it away.
  2. Distribute the next build of Mozilla with a fresh skin, and make the product enjoyable to use. The dull, battleship gray of Netscape 7 is not winning any converts.
  3. Get rid of the ancient Navigator icon. Design and implement a new icon that has the same look and feel as Firefox.

At this point, TMF needs to start spending money on marketing. Put an ad on Wired or Salon. Giving away bandwidth for graphic banners helps a little, and word of mouth helps more, but shell out a few bucks to get your name to people who don’t even know there is an alternative to IE. These are the same who fondly remember Netscape’s glory days; broadcast your history and affiliation, and they will come to you in downloading droves.

Anyone who has used a Mozilla browser, especially the new Firefox, will agree that it stands head and shoulders above IE, both in terms of functionality and the fact that it actually works correctly because it does not have an umbilical cord to the OS. But getting the name out there is one thing; getting people to download the product is even more impressive, but getting people to use the product every day—getting the Mozilla name out onto browser tracking software—is the magic Mozilla must now weave. Firefox is an incredible piece of technology, but it will remain the internet’s soft-spoken and ignored good boy unless it gets some serious marketing volume.