September 7th, 2014
The CEO of a fledgling tech startup approached me for branding help. “What is your biggest problem?” I asked. “We’re a hammer in search of a nail,” he replied.
Translation: We’re a hazy solution in search of a yet-to-be-determined problem. In other words, a hazy hammer.
I then wanted to know his biggest hammer-nail consequence: potential investors can’t figure out what we do and are in no hurry to fund us.
Likewise, it means that potential customers will be equally confused and reluctant to purchase. Result: needlessly high costs of capital and sales.
Do you still doubt that branding is your #1 priority?
I make it clear, in chapter 11 of Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding, that this hammer-nail problem is typical, and preventable.
Ironically, the same investors — venture capitalists (VCs) — who can’t decipher white-noise technojargon are its chief proponents!
You read that correctly. Many VCs require startups to embed brand-killing technojargon in their investor pitches and customer messaging — in exchange for capital. I call this insular insanity technologica erotica.
WARNING: Technology is evanescent, fleeting, ephemeral. Here today and gone tomorrow. Avoid any investor(s) ignorant of branding and obsessed with technology and technojargon.
Unless you are intentionally hawking a look-alike, low-margin commodity, you’d better be providing a unique, value-based solution — and describing it as such. Or, you’re a branding failure, regardless of industry or company size.
An Unemployed Chef
I’ve been watching the US Open tennis championships. At almost every commercial break, IBM hammers me with some version of its cloud, big data, or Watson offering. Make it stop. It’s downright oppressive. Technologica erotica run amok. I’m just a nail with a mute button, and I use it.
New to Jargonville? “Cloud” is a generic, hazy sobriquet for online computing and storage. It is nothing more than a remote building with rows of servers, cables, and disks. Every tech vendor and VC pushes “cloud” because, well, um, it’s the groupthink du jour — despite the uptick in hacking and the insidious building of fake cellphone towers to steal your data, not to mention a huge violation of Branding 101.
“Big data” is another hazy moniker, a gift from engineers, representing the generic ability to analyze very large groups of data. Analyze for what purpose? Oh, the hazy hammer expects the unsuspecting nail to figure that out. Utterly shameful.
Last but not least is Watson, IBM’s amazing supercybergenius that beat two contestants on Jeopardy. Now, back to the US Open and IBM’s commercials.
In one odd spot, IBM hits me with all three hammers, simultaneously: cloud, Watson, and big data. Why? Certainly not to sell anything. The actor brandishes a burrito made of chocolate, soybeans, and apricots. He asks, “What kind of chef comes up with this?” Then, he answers himself: “A chef working with IBM Watson, on the cloud.” Seriously? I have a better answer: an unemployed chef! Are you paying attention, IBM shareholders?
This production is, obviously, the handiwork of IBM’s debranding committee, comprised of jargonistas who never have sold anything, face-to-face, in their lives. Here’s how I’d rewrite the script: Attention, nails, wherever you are: We have no freaking idea what our hammer does or why it exists. Please give us a hint.
IBM, which ranks #23 on the 2014 Fortune 500 list, has made the same branding blunder as many neophyte entrepreneurs! Here’s my question: Why didn’t Watson stop this amateur nonsense in advance?
Parting Advice to CEOs
Other than the hazy cloud of confusion created by using cloud as a product name, there is no cloud. Stop using this word. Either you’re solving a real customer problem, articulated in sharp, compelling, memorable, repeatable customer language — or you’re not.
Rid your company of jargon, period. If your employees can’t communicate without it, they’re lazy or uncreative, or both. Jargon is a neon sign that screams our company has no brand.
IBM’s jargonistic commercials are foolish, tiresome, hazy hammers in search of nails.
POSTSCRIPT #01: Fake Cell Towers Found in DC
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.
© 2014 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.