March 11th, 2012
Do you really think IBM’s commissioned salespeople walk into client sites to banter about a “smarter planet”? Not if they want to walk out with purchase orders. But, IBM’s series of TV spots would have you believe so.
Can you imagine any board of directors, of a for-profit enterprise, debating issues of “the planet” — other than global reach, tax rates, or profit margins? If such Kumbaya occurs, it’s because, in our capitalism-bashing era, they and their company are desperate to be liked.
Develop a thicker skin.
As I asserted in “Bad Brands Bounce Sales,” salespeople will use whatever language works to get orders, despite the indecipherable white noise their HQ marketers create.
Here’s an example of an IBM “Smarter Planet” spot that I’m sure you’ve seen:
I’ve always scratched my head in bewilderment when viewing these IBM feel-good spots. What on earth (excuse the pun) do they mean? What is a smarter planet; who decides? What is IBM really selling? And, how does it solve my specific problem?
In the spot above, IBM is trying to sell a solution for healthcare management, while trying to manipulate us with nebulous, feel-good political correctness.
In his seminal book, The End of Marketing As We Know It, Sergio Zyman, former marketing VP at Coca-Cola, explained that advertising has a sole purpose: selling product. Attempting to achieve any other objective — such as making people feel good or winning awards — is a waste of time and money. Such subterfuge also dilutes the brand.
Coincidentally, in his recent Business Week piece about Big Blue, Ashlee Vance relates the confusion surrounding its “Smarter Planet” campaign:
If there’s a downside to IBM’s marketing campaign, it’s that many people don’t quite get what the company does. The “PC maker” has transformed into an amorphous think tank. As a friend of mine who runs a prominent mutual fund recently asked, “What do they actually sell?”
Indeed. Indeed. When people can’t grasp your value proposition (brand) and ask what you actually sell, you’ve failed to communicate. How much did that cost the shareholders?
Rx from the WhiteNoise Doctor™
The CEO’s job is to articulate a crystal-clear brand, kick his rivals’ asses, improve customers’ businesses, and enrich his shareholders in the process — not improve Earth’s IQ. A smarter salesforce, design team, and product strategy? Absolutely. Stick to basics.
IBM does well because it delivers results. It could do much better by staying on-message, being specific, and not running from capitalism.
Finally, IBM must articulate concisely, clearly, consistently, and compellingly what it sells, so that its key constituents — customers, salespeople, channel partners, shareholders, and media pros — can grasp and exploit its value.
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.
© 2012 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.