Need and want are subsets of the real motivation I believe we should all be searching for as marketers – and that is intent.
In a great post Stephen Dubner once wondered aloud why stock markets rise and fall. His point – that every day, observers look to ascribe a cause to what happened over the small window of time that is a trading day. As Dubner points out, newspapers (and the media generally) look to pin a cause on what they’re seeing which may in fact bear little resemblance to the actual forces at play.
Expect – in the sense that they are ready to act immediately should anything go wrong. They do so with grace, speed and humanity. They apologise when it’s appropriate. They move quickly. They recognise the loyalty opportunity of doing right by people.
No matter how successful your brand is now, it will probably die. That’s the forecast from Jim Collins in this insightful article about life and death on the Fortune 500. In it he points out that over 2000 companies have appeared on the list since its inception in 1955. But of the 500 that appeared on that first list, only 71 are still going at the time he is writing (2008). That’s an 86% disappearance rate.
For some time now, brands have pursued difference. Spurred on initially by Jack Trout, they’ve positioned, disrupted, innovated … all with that elusive goal in mind. To stand out and stand apart from their competitors. Benefits, positioning, onions, pyramids, strategies … a lot of time and energy has been focused on helping brands achieve difference. Everyone’s been on that quest to become a Purple Cow.
One of my favourite questions when a brand leader tells me how much they intend to grow over the next 12 months is to ask them how much they think the market itself will grow. In other words, how much organic growth can they expect the market to give them just for participating versus how much do they think they’re going to have to “find” somewhere else?
At some point, a culture that is serious about what it intends must put those intentions in writing. That’s about a lot more than documentation. Declaring what you come to work for collectively amounts to a commitment. So many companies squander this opportunity in my view. They market what is happening rather than explaining it. They expand on what it means for the company rather than how it benefits the individual. They paint a process and not a picture.
Brad VanAuken made this excellent observation about rebrands. “Identity systems are designed to encode and decode brand information to and from people’s brains,” he said. “If you change the system, the associations may be lost and will take a long time to rebuild.”
Far from increasing the daylight between itself and another brand, companies that are fixated on achieving an objective can do themselves, their brands and their reputations serious harm. Pushing the wrong boundaries can push a brand over the edge. This is of course anathema to conventional management theory which has preached for some time that pushing people to excel brings out the best in them.
The temptation when you’re working with a brand is to continue to treat it just as a product or service. It’s simpler to do so. It’s contained. You can add features to it or introduce a variation to it. But I’ve wondered aloud with marketers in the past whether treating a brand as the personification of an idea – one that needs to develop and evolve – is not only more interesting but actually vital in a world where story is king and great content is rarer than one might think.