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Check Your Branding Gargoyles
Your gargoyles say more about your brand than you may think. They are your front line. If your marketing doesn’t match, you’re asking for trouble.
I recently responded to a blog article written by Kay Ross, who wrote about the faces we put forward in a marketing message. Kay’s article is titled “In Your Marketing, To Thine Own Self Be True“, and it reminded me of many observations I have made about the overall feel of companies during my career, and personal encounters.
That “feel” of a company is what makes up a brand, and when it’s done well it involves every aspect of the company, and extends far beyond the marketing department. I want to share some thoughts about your brand, and I believe you will be able to relate to this from both a consumer and business viewpoint.
The topic which was addressed in Kay’s blog came from one of her subscribers who asked the question as follows: “Which is more important when communicating with your audience: say things you really want to say, or say things that people want to hear?”
Should there really be such a disparity between the two? If the marketing is reaching the appropriate audience, it should not have to be one or the other. The way I interpreted this question, it led me to imagine the question as whether it is acceptable to fake it in your marketing. If you know my brand at all, you can place your bets now about where I stand.
Let Them Love You, But Realize You Cannot Force Them
As I read that question, I immediately thought of something I once wrote titled “Polarize Your Audience and Stop Making Everybody Happy“. In that piece, I used examples of companies like Apple and Google, who understand their brand enough to stand behind it.
You will never make everybody love you - so don’t even try. Trying to be everything to everybody will only serve to dilute your brand integrity and create a “wishy-washy” brand message. People don’t like that in politics, and they don’t like it elsewhere, either. That doesn’t mean ignoring anyone or treating them badly … but you should realize there is always a good, better, and best customer for any company.
Instead of creating a false brand loyalty, I suggest looking closer for the ones who will find a connection with your brand, before you assume you should re-brand. You’ve got one brand to work with, so you should understand it well, and embrace it. Kay and I agree that it is important to know what you are about, and stick with it. I think most people would agree with that point, once they give it a little consideration.
Don’t Make it “Us Versus Them” … Make it “Us With Them”
Many companies struggle to strike a perfect balance between what others want from them, and what they are willing and capable of delivering. This means there is a gap between the two parties - the company and the consumer. In most cases, there is a huge gap, and it’s why you would be wasting your time to try and sell me knitting needles. This is exactly why it is extremely important for any company offering anything to anybody to realize the message I shared in an article titled ““Everybody” is Not Your Target Market!” Please feel free to read that thought provoking piece. This one will still be here when you get back.
Gaps Between Companies and Consumers
Shrinking that gap between the company and consumers is extremely important, but try to imagine it like another kind of relationship for a moment. When I was a single guy, I tried to make myself more attractive to ladies - but not just any ladies. I wanted a certain type who would want what I offered and understand my vision. I could have let it change me completely, but wouldn’t that eventually fail?
Try a Friendlier Gargoyle
I wanted the type who fit my offer just right. If I faked who I was, it would have potentially led me down a really ugly path of disillusioned ladies - ladies who would warn the other ladies - and it could have left me single even longer.
I fixed my hair just right, I shaved extra close, and I adapted to things like closing the bathroom door. That’s right - when I met my wife, Peggy, I would close the bathroom door if I needed to stink the place up. That doesn’t mean I’d go out of my way to hide the fact that I stink the place up sometimes … I just kept it a bit more courteous. I didn’t fart at the dinner table, either … I waited until we made it out the restaurant door.
Now imagine if I just held it until she left. Can you imagine how much gas and poo I would have held back? Then imagine if she had married me for all my amazing (but fake) charm. I mean, can you imagine finding a non-pooing, non-gaseous guy? She would have surely loved me even more, but what if I had sealed the deal based on that fakeness?
Wouldn’t she be disappointed later, when she found out that I can curl the bathroom paint? Wouldn’t she have really hated it once she realized that each of our three babies poo, too?
Now put that in terms of a company brand message. Even pooing companies with gas are charming and “perfect” to somebody. In the case of marketing, that usually means a lot of people. By reaching that perfect segment, you can encounter something I’ve said many times, and that is as follows:
I don’t try to please everybody, and that pleases some people very much.
Perception Shaping Versus Waiting to Poo
Shaping the perception of consumers is important, but letting your integrity slip just to tell them what they want to hear is not the right answer. I believe that each and every company can do a better job of closing the gap between the company and their ideal consumer. It requires research and paying close attention, and when companies can get out of their own way, that market research and paying attention serves them very well. What I refuse to advocate in is glazing over the things that make the company what it is, and creating a false perception that can later be discovered as such.
In the article by Kay Ross, she cited something I said in a piece titled “Great Marketing is Not About You … Hogwash!” In that article, I explained ways that is really is about you, and that the people of an organization are what makes it special.
About Those Gargoyles …
I want to share what I wrote in my response to Kay’s article. I’ll paraphrase, but I invite you to see her original article and the comments there, as well.
Is This Your Gargoyle?
My take-off, based on the article, was to address how company cultures spread throughout the company, and how valuable or destructive that can be. I based it on things I have seen over a long period of time, as a marketing consultant, a corporate officer, and a consumer. I suspect you can find instances where something similar has created an impression with you, about a company.
In my experience, if a company has a mean gargoyle as their gatekeeper, it is easy to expect it throughout the company. On the other hand, if that gargoyle is helpful and friendly, it is often a sign of the company’s culture - their brand. If it is faked in the marketing, it becomes obvious very quickly.
You can experience this right now, by simply considering how you feel about any given restaurant, retail store, doctor’s office, cellular provider, or any other brand experience you’ve had. Somebody set the brand feel in motion from the very start. Whether that came directly from the marketing department or elsewhere, it begins to forge your view of the company. If that brand message is inconsistent with your experience, it is easy to become very critical of the company. It can also become very enticing to share that feeling with others. Thus, it is wise to know your brand and not waiver from it.
Here is my longer answer, based on Kay’s blog:
I believe that the personality of a company shows through very clearly, and in many ways. If you try to cover it with a veil, it only serves a wasteful agenda, and I’ll get to that, but I’ll give an example first.
I very recently reached out to the senior vice president and CMO of a large and extraordinarily visible corporation. When I called for a follow-up and reached his assistant, I was met with a very friendly and helpful demeanor from his personal “gargoyle”.
In decades of dealing with everything from large corporations to small “mom and pop” companies, I have always found a strong similarity in the attitudes of people across a whole company … from top to bottom, and side to side. People adapt to their companies, and you can tell a lot about the company by how those people treat you.
Sure, it’s easy to discount the fact that the first impression sets an expected tone, which it does, but I find it to be true that the culture of a company spreads to all edges of the organization, and can seldom be faked very well.
Since I’m not citing broad statistics (although I could), you may imagine that I’m just imagining this, but consider your own experiences for a clearer picture.
When you look at it in this way, doesn’t it make good sense to show off the true culture of the company, rather than faking it? Although it can often influence products or services, that culture does not exist within the products or the services themselves. It exists in the people, and it becomes integrated across the company. It strongly influences their brand, regardless of what their marketing portrays.
When I say that trying to cover it up only serves a wasteful agenda, I look at it like this: If your company is not likable, and people don’t feel good about it, the company will probably never be able to buy enough faceless and nameless advertisements to make up for the cost of lost opportunities.
Without the people, a company is just a hollow shell. That goes for all shapes and sizes of companies. They may last a long time, but they seldom realize extraordinary growth and the full potential of their market.
In summary, please consider this: If you stray from the things which make up your brand just to make your marketing appealing, it is best to revisit those gargoyles and get them in shape, first.
The value of “human collateral” should not be neglected. The people within your organization make up a huge portion of the brand, and it is nearly impossible to convincingly change it without changing the people, themselves.
If you project a brand message that is not consistent with the consumer’s experience, they will see through it. When they do, the outcome is not favorable, it is best to get it right from the beginning.
Gargoyle by Jeff Egnaczyk via Flickr
Friendly Gargoyle by Michael Napoleon via Flickr
Scary Gargoyle by Andrew Barden via Flickr
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