How Committees Ruin Branding


We are constantly bombarded with billboards, commercials, and homepages that convey no or negative value and are, therefore, colossal branding failures.

Few branding efforts fare worse than those of GEICO. Atrocious. Really. But, here’s one in contention: MetroPCS’s inane, cringeworthy “Tech & Talk” spot, part of a series.

Here are the three causes — Three C’s — of branding failure:

  1. Competence: wrong people involved (political correctness)
  2. Camouflage: wrong strategy (propensity to blend)
  3. Committee: too many people involved (spoil the broth).

Branding, like gourmet cooking, requires specific expertise, singular talent, and unique flair. Assigning this endeavor to a politically correct team of generalists, geeks, investors, inept communicators, and those inexperienced with closing customer deals will result in failure.

The second cause of failure — easily verified with a 15-second glimpse at any homepage — is camouflage: the propensity to blend, to fit in, to copy competitors, to avoid standing out, to be invisible, to dwell in white noise. This confounds customers, investors, and the media — and hikes your cost of sales.

A speech or media appearance powerfully reflects a brand’s strength, or lack thereof. Bill O’Reilly recently criticized Tim Pawlenty for his unwillingness to confront Mitt Romney in the GOP debate on June 13, 2011. O’Reilly said about Pawlenty: “Häagen-Dazs could put his picture on vanilla. Do we get that? Are we all hearin’ that? The guy’s invisible.”

In the video below, Pawlenty tries to explain and joke about his branding failure to Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday. Still vanilla to me. I can’t cite, or explain to anyone else, any compelling or unique benefit of Tim Pawlenty.

Finally, relegating branding to an unqualified, mixed-discipline committee merely amplifies and compounds causes #1 and #2 above. Committees, always political, produce bland, banal, baffling messaging — squandering time, money, and competitive advantages. Too many chefs spoil the broth.
Converting Clarity Into Ambiguity

In addition to Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron, the Mini Cooper was a star of The Italian Job. British Motor Corporation launched the first Mini in 1957, based on simple specifications that Sir Alec Issigonis and his team of eight used in their iconic design. Issigonis epitomized “less is more” and gave us this gem: A camel is a horse designed by committee. Indeed.

Anyone who’s been on any committee knows how mindnumbingly unproductive, uncreative, and political it can be. Typically, a “leader” who will not or cannot lead creates committees and councils to avoid making decisions, to kick the can down the road.

Branding — articulating a unique, compelling, memorable, repeatable value proposition — requires decisive leadership, the guts to stand apart from the competition. This is not a job for a committee. A committee excels at converting clarity into ambiguity.

In my consulting experiences, I’ve observed, especially in today’s feel-good culture, many companies exulting in squishy, politically correct, all-opinions-count branding by committee. It doesn’t work. Committees are about nebulous consensus, not boldness and creativity. Committees create white noise and ruin branding.

Barack Obama loves committees. Remember his deficit-reduction panel, with Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles? The deficit has increased. Then there’s his President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Its chairman is Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, whose stock has declined by half during his decade-long tenure. Now, Obama faces a 17.3% unemployment rate. You see, committees ruin economies, too.

Politburo-style central planning always fails, but the president won’t admit it. If Obama really wants to “create jobs,” he’d boldly cut taxes and government spending in half — and watch American businesses grow overnight. Instead, we get useless committees. The US government is one big committee!

Watch Obama joke that “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” Mr. President, your committee is the joke.

Rx from the WhiteNoise Doctor™

Committees ruin branding because they lack the incentive, structure, and expertise to win. They’re clouds, not arrowheads. They impede, not propel.

Before initiating your branding effort — which you must do before building a product — make a fundamental decision: horse or camel, memorable epicurean event or potluck supper.
POSTSCRIPT #1: Kraft, Mondelēz, and the ‘Art’ of Rebranding


About the Author

Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.


© 2011 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.


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