Brand Prognostication: Fisking An Expert

There are times when the profession of marketing becomes a little bit like a romance — well, at least if you’re El Burlador de Sevilla.  You try to divine what is going on in the customer’s head, what makes her tick, what you can say or do or highlight or whatever to get her attention, then position everything such that she perceives you in a positive light, then ultimately to have her give in to her desires that you have inflamed….

No wonder there are so many pricks in this business.

But then, under the Cluetrain model, it’s more like a deep love affair culminating in a marriage.  You and the consumer, both of you uncertain, both of you somewhat hesitant, having been lied to before, nonetheless connect and start sharing stories.  You listen to her; she in turn listens to you.  Both of you are honest with each other — although, let’s face it, you’re still both going to put your best foot forward — and come to an understanding of each other’s needs and wants, strengths and weaknesses, and despite the flaws, what could be if the two of you got together is so tantalizing that you enter into a relationship.

When something like that happens, it’s magical.  It’s when you know that you can improve the life of your customer in some way, and she is more than happy to pay you for the real value you’re delivering.

At the same time, there are things about marketing that I simply cannot stand.  One of those things is the extreme imprecision in language.

Maybe it’s the philosophy degree; maybe it’s the legal training.  But I like to define things.  I like to use precise terms whenever possible.  And yeah, in marketing, sometimes that’s not possible — like defining ROI for example, or “customer”.  I believe that clarity in language results in (and from) clarity in thinking, which is every marketer’s best friend.

So when I read grandiose, hazy statements that read like an Obama speech, it makes me feel all dirty inside for my entire profession.  It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does happen, it makes my teeth ring.

For example, Brad VanAuken from Branding Strategy Insider blog sometimes goes over the edge.  His latest is a crime against the English language entitled “The Future of Branding“:

•    Building emotional connection will be key
•    Brands will focus more on creating/engineering the total customer experience
•    Customer-relevant innovation will be a key success factor
•    Outstanding customer service will also be a key success factor
•    Hiring the right employees and creating the appropriate culture will be essential

And he goes on like this for a whole page.  I haven’t done this in a while, but I really do feel the need for a bit of frisky fisking.  So here goes.

•    Building emotional connection will be key

Translation: If people like your brand, you will be successful.

Today, whether a customer likes your brand or not is completely irrelevant to brand management.  But in the future, watch out!

•    Brands will focus more on creating/engineering the total customer experience

Translation: N/A

I don’t even know what “total customer experience” means.  It feels like one of those jargon words like “paradigm shifting” that sounds really smart, but is actually devoid of meaning.  Is this referring to people who download songs from Apple iTunes onto their Apple MacBook to load onto their Apple iPod so they can listen to it while eating Apple Jacks cereal?  Oops!  Guess that cereal ruins the “total customer experience”, whatever that means.

•    Customer-relevant innovation will be a key success factor

Translation: If you invent stuff people like, you will be successful.

Today, entrepreneurs are forced to invent stuff nobody likes in order to make a buck.  But in the future, watch out!

•    Outstanding customer service will also be a key success factor

Translation: If you treat people well, they will like you.

Whereas today, treating your customers like dirt is normally the key success factor.  But in the future, watch out!

•    Hiring the right employees and creating the appropriate culture will be essential

Translation: You shouldn’t hire incompetent assholes.

John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie had to make do with incompetent assholes in building their business empires, but in the future, watch out!

•    More and more, brands will co-create the customer experience with the customer

Translation: WTF? o.0

Whereas today, most companies will send armed representatives to your house in order to force the customer experience down your throat — “You will lather THEN rinse, you bastard!” — in the future, watch out!

•    The Internet will also become increasingly important as a brand building vehicle

Translation: WTF? o.0

The newfangled invention called the “Internet” or the “World Wide Web” is a global network of computers connected by magical transports called “TCP/IP” and other geeky words, and was invented by the Great Goracle, Al Gore.  Trust me, it’s gonna be important in the future.  Your company might want to invest in one o’ dem things called “A Site On the World Wide Web”.

•    With the explosion of virtual and morphing organizations and ever-changing business alliances, the brand essence and promise and the organizational culture may increasingly be the only elements that create a sense of “entity” for organizations

Translation: I have no idea what I’m saying here, but it sounds so good when those words are strung together.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

•    The viral spread of information will increasingly expose organizations for what they really are – integrity and consistency will be key

Translation: Stop lying to your customers.

I mean, this is good advice and all, but the future of branding?  You can colorize it, give it a fancy name like Xcrementis, and write all kinds of copy for it (“certified organic”), but a piece of poop is still a piece of poop.

I didn’t actually bother to go through the whole list.  But these kinds of grandiose statements with vague terms, jargony language, and pretensions of grandeur only serve to muddy the waters.  You can read that whole post and still have no idea what the future of branding might look like.

I wanted to fisk this because in real estate today, way way way too many people are obsessed with “branding”.  A huge subtext of the whole blog network vs. personal blog debate is branding.  Some folks think it’s a Kantian categorical imperative to brand themselves via blog, via web, via twitter, via Facebook, etc. etc. etc.  Image is everything! appears to be mantra du jour.  Don’t send Google searches to some network! is a common cry.

Brand goes beyond image.  High search rankings is not branding.

What is branding then?  There are more techniques for branding in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  The answer could (and does) fill books upon books.

But, fear not.  My next post will be a short primer (with an emphasis on short) on branding.  I’d just put it here, but it would get lost.


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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