June 14th, 2013
In no company would a CEO ask marketers to write software code or legal briefs, nor would he seek their opinions on such matters — they lack the expertise. Yet, in every company, the CEO allows and even encourages employees, from multiple backgrounds, sans expertise, to opine on and participate in branding strategies and tactics.
There’s a pervasive presumption in business that marketing requires no special knowledge, and anyone who can spell or say “social media” qualifies for the job. The result, typically, is branding by committee that produces uninspiring, unmemorable, unrepeatable pablum.
To wit: pablum from the homepage of IBM, the world’s second-largest software company. One wonders how many branding-committee signatures were required to approve this.
Decades ago, I took Dale Carnegie’s nine-week course on public speaking. On the first day, most students couldn’t stand before the class to recite their names, let alone communicate topics. By the course’s end, we were polished, entertaining speakers.
Fortunately, on rare occasions, a vendor succeeds with brilliant branding. Below is a print ad from Gillette for its Mach3 razor. It features the benefit — how much she wants to kiss him — not product attributes or technology. If you believe the lesson of this example doesn’t apply to the industrial and commercial domains, you’re mistaken. IBM can learn a lot from Gillette.
Reality: the majority of people cannot communicate effectively, in any form, yet somehow end up affecting or controlling their companies’ brands. Evidence abounds.
|Attend any pitch event in Silicon Valley, a forum where aspiring entrepreneurs convey their business ideas to a gaggle of investors, hoping to raise equity capital.
Sequentially, each wannabe titan presents his plan for a better mobile mousetrap, in arcane mousetrapese, unable to articulate why anybody truly needs and would buy his mousetrap. Reason? Like most techies, he sticks to his comfort zone, believing that:
Following this agonizing exercise, mystified investors, in succession, laboriously attempt to grasp each company’s raison d’être. No matter the event or roster of entrepreneurs, the aforementioned dynamics are identical.
Invariably, when I ask why he founded his company, the typical entrepreneur will say: Mobile is what’s in now. It’s what interests the VCs [venture capitalists]. No mention of customer needs or real problems to solve (demand orientation) — just a bandwagon, product-focused mentality (supply orientation). I call this condition technologica erotica.
Few scenarios demonstrate more vividly why marketing does require special expertise — that few people possess — about which many execs are unaware or indifferent.
Res Ipsa Loquitur
Engineers and lawyers are polar opposites: the former being reliably black-and-white, the latter annoyingly gray (Bill Clinton: “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”). Yet, there’s a notable parallel, or so it seems: the negligence case where there are no direct witnesses; circumstantial evidence is the sole weapon. In such a case, the plaintiff’s counsel (PC) will argue res ipsa loquitur: the thing speaks for itself. But, despite the “res” argument, the judge and jury don’t instantly accede: the PC must make the case; this can take days, weeks, or months. The thing speaks for itself? It seems not.
Judging by the sea of generic, jargonized homepages, brochures, ads, speeches, and sales pitches — which resemble data sheets, nutritional labels, and catalogs — the scribes of such pablum obviously maintain that “the product speaks for itself; if prospects can’t hear it, they will have to listen better.” Sound familiar?
Rx from the WhiteNoise Doctor™
Your product does not speak for itself. Frankly, nothing speaks for itself — otherwise, you’d win every argument simply by presenting the facts. Our replacement Latin phrase is: res ipsa non loquitur, or the thing does not speak for itself. Great trial lawyers already know this.
Your product is mute; you must give it a voice, the voice of the customer — not your voice, not the voice of your company or its technology, or of your industry. The voice of the customer is the only one he can hear.
It should be clear why branding is critical to your success, why branding is not jargonizing, and why you need skilled people to execute it. Can you hear me now?
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.
© 2013 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.