Ball of Brand Confusion

Tom Asacker

Albert Einstein wrote, "Perfection of means and confusion of ends seem to characterize our age." We are presently witnessing and unprecedented drive for perfection in the field of marketing. Each and every day a plethora of new emails, articles, books and blogs promise to help us optimize everything from search engine rankings and viral video awareness to social media engagement and email open rates.

There's only one problem: Trying to perfect this growing assortment of marketing means is causing brand confusion, and thus a negative effect on the enterprise ends. The end, the goal, of any organization, of any brand, is to create happy customers, and you accomplish that goal by continually innovating to add value to their lives. Everything the organization invests in, and works on, should be laser-focused to that end.

That may sound ridiculously evident, but it's most certainly not. For example, ZenithOptimedia predicts that worldwide advertising expenditures will grow by a little over 2% this year to a whopping $456 billion! That's not to say that all advertising is valueless in the eyes of the customers. But I can assure you that much of that $456 billion is worse than valueless; it's a drain on people's time, attention, and sensibilities.

So why do marketers persist? Why do we continue to fritter away our organizations' valuable time, attention and money trying to keep up with, and optimize, activities that most customers find little, if any, value in? What invisible force holds us captive? Last week The New York Times exposed the compulsion in an article in its "Autos" section titled, "Saving Chevrolet Means Sending 'Chevy' to Dump."

In the article, The Times highlighted an internal General Motors memo to Chevrolet employees in Detroit, promoting the importance of brand consistency and advising them to stop using the word Chevy: "We'd ask that whether you're talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward," said the memo, which was signed by Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the G.M. division's vice president for marketing.

Do you see the force; the mindset that drives perfection of means and confusion of ends? It's as clear as day, but much like fish are unaware of the water in which they live, you're probably completely unaware of it. It's as omnipresent and invisible as gravity, and just as powerful in keeping organizations bound to their great big ball of brand confusion.

Marketers believe that they are in the propaganda and persuasion business. This worldview has them fixated on manipulating words and doing things right - right message, right name, right medium, right slogan, et al. - binding them to the most important marketing question: Are we doing the right things? Message to General Motors and to most marketers: You are not.

Consider some of today's most successful brand through this conventional, worn out marketing lens. What's Google's tagline? Isn't "Southwest Airlines" a confusing name? iPad? Marketing "thought leaders" scoffed at Apple's new, game change device - "They decided to call it the iPad? Was iTampon taken?" And what about Walmart? Shorten the founder's last name and slap on the generic "mart?" C'mon.

As the irascible Tom Peters makes clear, "Communication is everyone's panacea for everything." And this appears to be especially true for marketers. Untether your minds and escape the spinning ball of brand confusion. You are not in the propaganda and mind manipulation business; you're in the innovation and happiness business. Follow the lead of Apple and Zappos. Resist the cognitive pull of communication and persuasion on your strategic thinking and do something meaningfully different that adds value to people's lives. You'll be happily surprised by the reaction, and by the results.

Tom Asacker, author of A Little Less Conversation
Copyright 2011, author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

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