With everything on the line for today's companies, how can so many smart people in businesses big and small keep missing the boat with their brands?
Three Main Reasons :
1. In the twenty-first century, believe it or not, what we're about to show you is still not taught in business schools.
If you have a Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton MBA, you know what we're talking about. Finance, accounting, and organizational theory are drilled into you all day long. But how and why you need a USP (Unique Selling Proposition ?) - which today we call a Dominant Selling Idea - is nowhere to be found. Academics must think that selling (capitalism) is crass or déclassé because we've been polling graduates over the past ten years about how much practical branding they're taught and other than Marketing Manegement 101 and an occasional elective, the answer remains nada. This has to be why we've been to so many meetings where the discussion goes like this:
MBA VENTURE CAPITALIST PARTNER:
"We've hired a great new CEO, our third, and we like senior management. The burn rate is down to $100,000 per month. The technology is great, the product is out of beta and will be 'GA' in sixty days. The only question mark is we're not clear on the value proposition. We don't know if the market wants the product. Other than that, I'd say we're right on plan."
FIVE OTHER MBA VCS (AROUND TABLE): (Heads nod).
We guarantee you, these people haven't been thinking about the brand. Some eventually learn by trial and error. Most go on like they always have, which is your golden opportunity.
2. The tyranny of the Three Ts.
Theories, Trendiness, and Totems are the Three Ts proffered by consultants, authors, and agencies trying to convince the needy that a new, proprietary panacea has been revealed that will float us to Brand Valhalla.
Tantalizing coinage like brand charisma, brand chronicles, brand karma, brand ethos, brand surprise, and brand warfare are the kind of thing we're talking about. These words describe what you get as a result after building a brand on a real, Dominant Selling Idea, as we'll see on the following pages. But taken alone, none of them are prescriptive of anything. When a consultant tells you, "The answer is brand charisma. $50,000, please," what do you exactly do?
Too much of the Three Ts leads directly to pseudo-brand messaging tactics impelled by the same psychological charade. Here's a famous one:
"Sell the sizzle, not the steak."
This leads some companies to believe, in effect, that they can manufacture sizzle and actually forget about the steak. Have you ever gone to The Palm Steakhouse in New York City and ordered a twenty-four-ounce plate of sizzle? It is and always will be about the steak, my friends, when you're building a #1 brand.The steak is the vessel with the vitamins, the protein, the flavor, the color, the history, the process, the culture, and the complexity. Make your steak the idea and the star, and the sizzle will pop and snapp better and louder than all the others, by default.
Too much theory, not enough reality, is an obstructive force that keeps Johnny and his good company from developing a good brand.
3. But the biggest reason of all is fear.
Branding and positioning require decisive commitment to a single path, and that means risk. The positioning paradox is that the power of your message is directly propotional to how simple you can make it and how few words and images you can use to say it. Amateurs are petrified not to list every possible feature and benefit in every communication, afraid they'll leave something on the table and miss some fraction of the market. But by saying everything, they heave themselves upon the clutter and end up saying nothing - too afraid to do the one thing that they must do: choose.
Professionals know branding is about relentless focus on the most singular message, always. They narrow the story all the way down to the big idea and its key associations to create a trim, lean, idea-centered brand. It takes some guts.
Taking the first step of any commitment is the hardest. if you're not sure about this, ask any skydiver. But once you commit, it's amazing how clarifying and emporewing that step can be for an entire organization, let alone the marketplace.
Here's a direct challenge: If you have the discipline to follow the principles in this book, if you can trust your instruments in the clouds, as pilots say, to make the hard choices that all great marketers make, you'll be in a distinct minority in your industry - with the distinct advantage that comes from an unforgettable, idea-centered real selling brand.