“It is well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.“
Andrew J. Holmes
So. Let’s set the stage: your company is realigning itself, resetting itself to rock the world, you’ve decided it’s a new version of you, so, everyone sits in the conference room and someone says “well … we should tell someone about all of this … <insert: “they will be as excited as we are and come flocking to us”>”.
Well. This is how the next company communications campaign to build ‘positive awareness’ comes to life.
“We should do something.” One little well meaning comment. And therein begets one huge asinine sink hole waste of money idea. Because it then becomes a serious conversation. One in which some sage executive sagely <wisely> suggests: “well … if you are going to do it … we should do it right”<typically said with a stern look on face and possibly a hand under the chin pose>.
<sidebar note: insert somewhere in the same room the non-sage realistic executive who doesn’t say “there is no way to do this right.” And all of a sudden a line item appears in the company budget where gobs of dollars are being invested in the research into what are the most important things to say … and tapping into the customers minds … and what is trending in terms of importance culturally … and the way to put the company on the map as ‘a serious player in the world.’
Yes. We are now discussing the campaign where you tell the world about your company philosophy so they’ll finally understand how great you are.
<note: except your internal organization … and you probably aren’t investing half the energy – and dollar investment – to get them excited let alone get them to understand what the frickin’ philosophy means tangibly & functionally to them>.
Nobody gives a shit that …
– you believe your people are your greatest asset <or the best or unique …>.
– you believe that customer is number one.
– you believe innovation is the key to the future.
– you believe one person <or one thing> can make a difference.
– you think the world needs to be more connected <or that it is already connected>.
– you think we need to be environmentally responsible.
– you think the children are our future.
Sure. They all matter to people <I don’t need research to tell me that>. But here is a business truth. They’ve heard it all before and they don’t give a shit. It all either sounds like “bla bla bla” meaningless drivel .. or worse … sounds like bullshit.
Here’s what they care about:
– What do you do for me?
– What’s in it for me?
– Why do I need it?
– Why is it good?
– Why should I open my wallet and risk my money on you?
Well. That’s sounds selfish doesn’t it? And I am absolutely certain someone in that same executive conference room will say ‘people want to feel good … we want them to feel good being associated with us.’
<someone should reach over and slap him – or her – side the head>
Face it. You are asking a person to hand over some hard earned money. Period. Therefore, what feels good is feeling like it was worth it. That they got some tangible not-just-feel-good value. Once that happens, well, they feel good. The company philosophy doesn’t really matter to a customer except for the fact it is embedded in the purchase itself.
Ok. There really are some underlying thoughtful thoughts behind the inflammatory contrarian words … ‘nobody gives a shit.’ But they are general communications rules of the road … rules which should guide all communications <and hopefully kill any ‘here is my philosophy’ spending if you pay attention to them>:
– generalities have no value <vague is vague and intangible rarely has value>
– specifics are invaluable <sure … we care about what people think … but our company thinking is irrelevant in today’s cynical questioning world. we have become a world of ‘doing is what matters.’ by all means tell someone what you are thinking … you will get some credit for showing you were purposeful in your actions and something wasn’t sheer dumb luck or a random event. but specifics … actions … are invaluable because they provide the proof that builds the value>
– manage the category not the brand <share of wallet … share of wallet … and once again … share of wallet. lose sight of that as you discuss ‘share of mind’ and you can easily be led astray>
Generalities is often overlooked as a rule of the road. Mostly because of 2 things:
– A generality is difficult for someone to harpoon. In other words … being general gives you the opportunity to avoid responsibility <which translates into ‘I can be blamed less often’>.
Look. I have been in business for decades … and I still can be sucked into the generalities sink hole. It is easy to do. Not only because it really does feel good … but also because in a consensus business environment you get tired trying to get everyone to agree on some specifics … and generalities are much more easily arrived at as the outcome of groupthink. It is a business truth that generalities are a feel good drug. A drug of which we all love. All of us fight this addiction every day <I just wanted to be fair to everyone>.
Next. Specifics. This is <should be> obvious.
In business speak that means simply that ‘building awareness is not enough.’
Business isn’t just about being the good guy or gal. Nor is it simply about being known as the good guy or gal.
Sure. It’s nice. Makes you feel better about yourself.
But it isn’t enough. It really only matters if they are buying your shit <and they feel good about your shit>.
Therefore <all that said>. Reality suggests business is more about category management not the brand in and of itself.
Well. This one may not be as obvious. I have stated so many times that my voice is hoarse that the path to building a successful business is to create new categories in people’s minds rather than engaging in brand preference competition in established categories.
Brand preference is often simply dancing on the head of a pin. And it is expensive. You end up spending a lot of money and investing a lot of energy in the nuance. Big wins happen in the idea of creating a new category, defining its dimensions, and becoming the leader in the category <because you frickin’ created the category>. That is where the biggest potential growth resides.
I call this disruption <some other people do also>.
Make people feel and think differently.
Disrupt traditional thinking.
Hey. Just to be clear. Even established brands can focus on category management within existing categories. In fact <truth be told> they often have the easiest time doing it.
Well. Let me caveat that quasi-flippant thought.
I mean that it is relatively easy externally … not internally. Because internally, when you are in a brand preference game, trying to convince everyone in your own organization to play the category management game is really difficult <creating a new category is scary>.
Anyway. An established brand?
Authenticity <or ‘genuine’>. Being genuine to who & what you are is the gold standard for relevance and the highest order of opportunity in category management. Some people call it heritage <which sometimes seems to be a swear word these days>. But using existing company attributes <and if you are older and established you have more to work with> is always a great place to create a new category.
Yes. Some brands need to engage in brand preference competition to retain their relevance and market position. I would suggest this is simply putting you in a holding pattern. In football this is the prevent defense. You are simply trying to not give up the big play as well as stay in the game yourself. You are simply managing the game.
If you want to get out of managing the game … manage the category. It is always worthwhile to look at positioning from a category or subcategory perspective rather that only a brand point of view because it can create that disruptive type strategy I mentioned as well as create more compelling effective communications.
Regardless. Category management is not about your company philosophy.
Back to something I said somewhere in the beginning …
Nobody gives a shit.
<note: except your internal organization … and you probably aren’t investing have the energy – and dollar investment – to get them excited let alone get them to understand what the frickin’ philosophy means tangibly & functionally to them>.
The single most powerful and influential target audience a company has is their employees. They are the embodiment of your philosophy. And not only that but they are the ones who make the philosophy into reality in the real non-company world.
Through the words they say, the decisions they make, the actions they take and the products & services they deliver … every little thing … well … gives meaning to all your shit.
It does drive me a little crazy that we, in business, seem to spend an inordinate amount of time ignoring our own people in communicating things.
We give it lip service. We do ‘things’ <put posters on the wall, send emails, maybe have a company event & rally>. But in the end we go through the motions <not really understanding that means the organization is more likely to go through the motions>.
So. Maybe I should have said: “nobody gives a shit about your company philosophy except your own people.”