Somewhere toward the end of virtually every new branding project, a subtle shift occurs. The discussion that, until then, had been about lofty things like “branded messaging strategy,” “brand voice and tone” or “brand narrative,” becomes brutally blinkered.
Suddenly, everybody’s yammering about best practice and the need to be “short and sweet.” And within 36 hours, the only thing left of those heady theoretical sessions is a shiny logo, a stubby tagline and a list of “benny bullets” you’d better get in the right order (TBD) or no one will even think of opening their wallets.
The result? A category-level promotion that sells the brand as “one of those.” By launch time, the un-differentiation campaign has gone so far, your audience would be hard pressed to say whether the product is a toaster or a thermonuclear reactor.
That’s because, lacking expertise, many a brand manager quakes at taking anything but a “monkey-see” approach. Create a distinctive brand voice, look and feel, and you’re more likely to terrify your clients than satisfy them.
“No one else is using red highlights!” you’ll hear, or something equally inane.
And when it comes to copy, at this point all a copywriter can do is shrug, sigh, and import “the changes” which usually amount to a complete, top-to-bottom rewrite of every word, with no hit of an underlying rationale. Most often, this rewrite is an orgy of safe, cut-and-paste marketing speak that tries to say everything, but fails to communicate anything at all.
If I thought it would help, I’d stand on a mountain top with a bullhorn and say:
A block of bulletted copy can’t
sell matches to an arsonist.
At a minimum, you must address the psychological needs of your customers. Even if, excuse me, your product is as sexless as a locking mechanism for hospital doors, you have to appeal to more than the factoid center of the human brain.
Who talks like that?
Imagine if you will, a man asking a woman out on a date with the spoken equivalent of this drab, empty kind of communication:
“Tired of eating alone? Jimmy Jones Dinner Companions® has everything you need for the perfect restaurant experience:
• Fashionable attire
• Tasteful wristwear
• A full array of conversational options:
–Generic political ideology (New! Independent Option)
• Seductive cologne
• Your choice of Nikes, cowboy kicks or ‘Richy Rich’ wingtips”
Am I alone in thinking that, unless Jimmy is an utterly different kind of marketer, such an approach would leave its target audience speechless?
I think not. And yet, year in and out, marketers persist in thinking that real, live human beings make their purchasing decisions based on lists. Sadly, this mistaken approach is itself based on the one tiny kernel of insight from market research that most brand managers ever seem to retain:
“People are busy!”
Yeah, I get that. You don’t want to tie up your harried consumer’s time with too much content.
Stop marketing to abstractions.
But what if the issue were that people don’t want to tie up their time unnecessarily. In that scenario, all the best practice theory in the world is of no avail. Faced with an emotionless list, only slightly different from your competitor’s emotionless list—no matter how many times you say “Exclusive!”— the harried consumer will decide based on price.
In the absence of emotional and psychological appeal, even impulse buyers will turn away, at the sound of a foot-tapping spouse with an eye on the checkbook. Because if you think your only job is convincing your carefully mapped out target, think again. The more expensive your product and the less clear its actual usefulness, the more you also have to appeal to the non-target person your target has to face at the breakfast table.
All of this is evidence that the creative team’s original impulse—to sell a product or service from one person to another, instead of from Us to Them—was correct. Why is this impulse so often suppressed? Because the number one goal of all marketing theory is to protect marketing professionals from believing that they, too, are human beings with needs. “The Consumer” wants this, we hear, “The Consumer” doesn’t like that—with never a thought to the one person everyone knows best: themselves.
As I see it, it all comes down to a simple question: Would you buy a used car from yourself? If the answer is “no,” your theory of advertising is totally out of whack.