Brand Message Fail


Whether it is a punchy tagline, a 30 second story or a lengthy commercial, we’re surrounded by brands that have no idea how to talk about themselves.

This week, I encountered 3 painfully familiar examples of how to undermine brand equity.

1. Internet Services Company – This brand happens to be a medium-sized online advertisement/marketing company in Los Angeles. On their homepage, front and center, you can’t find much about the brand.  It doesn’t mention that they provide advertisement or marketing services, it just says they help “grow verticals,” which is rather ambiguous.  The blurb on the homepage introducing the company reads as follows:

Our Story – <<Brand Name>> is a unique and compelling story. Our business model is producing superior results. Learn about how we do it. Click here

So, where to start. First, this company actually does have a compelling story.  If you were morbidly curious enough to fall for the “click here” at the end of the brand’s blurb, then you would land on the “About Us” section of the site, which details some very impressive facets of the company’s evolution, achievements and distinctive characteristics.

Somehow the homepage designer decided that the best content from that page was the most vague and unsubstantiated claims imaginable.  First, you don’t just assert that you are unique and compelling.  You have to say something unique and compelling about who you are and what you do.  Unique and compelling people don’t walk around saying that they are unique and compelling; so what makes marketers think that brands can get away with it?

Another issue is that “superior results” is not a business model.  It is not only too ambiguous to count as a business model, it is a differentiating factor, which is one part of a business model.  But even as a differentiating factor, it is too vague.  How are the results superior?  Are they more efficient? more accurate?  more cost-saving? more revenue-generating? What kind of results are produced? For all I know, this could be true of an accounting firm. There’s no indication that this company’s results have to do with online marketing outcomes.

After reading this blurb, which is so vague it could apply to virtually any company in the world, who would want to “click here” to learn how they “do it”?  Not me.

2. Distribution Company – On my way to the office, I passed this large freight truck that had plastered on the side a giant, daunting logo, contrasted with the underwhelming tagline, “A Different Kind of Merchant” (albeit in equally gigantic type).

The tagline itself should tell me how they are a different kind of merchant, not simply assert it.  How about “<<Brand Name>>. Always One Step Ahead of You” or maybe, “<<Brand Name>>. We’re on it.”  Or perhaps, “<<Brand Name>>, zoooooooooooooom!”  or maybe “<<Brand Name>>: the sound of your business delivered on time.” Okay, so these aren’t the most sexy taglines.  But they are certainly more interesting and suggest a “different kind” of distributor.

3. Bank Ad Campaign – On a drive through LA, I spotted a billboard that I was later able to find online. This campaign, while not necessarily tied to the core brand message, does directly impact the brand messaging because of the way the brand name and logo is used.

What is wrong with this?  It may not be obvious at first.  I can sort of sympathize with the marketers behind this campaign and their desire to be customer-centric and identify their customers with the brand.  But there is a reason you don’t see major brands making the mistake of using their brand name and logo in a generic sense, as a word other than the brand name.

This works against the goal of distinguishing a brand by excessively or arbitrarily employing the brand name or logo. Altering the brand name meaning impacts trademark strength as well as brand perception.  It raises the question, “So how do I know whether future uses of the ‘U’ name and logo are referring to the brand or to the word ‘You’?”  Suppose I read an ad that says, “U can do better.”  Is this saying “You can do better” or “<<Brand Name>> can do better”? This ambiguity creates an interesting double-meaning, which is why it is tempting to use.  But the long-term impact of this ambiguity dilutes the brand equity.

The only time it may be acceptable to violate this rule is when you use a part of a brand name in an alternative way.  For example, “X Marks the Spot – The Official Xbox 360 Geo-caching Event”.  This is debatable though, and I’m not sure I can claim this is always acceptable or advantageous.  It seems to work well for product promotional offers tied to a product/service, but the risk to brand equity seems to increase when you mess with the integrity of the parent brand.

Lesson Learned: Tell Why You Matter & Own Your Name
From the first two cases mentioned we learn that there is nothing unique or compelling about the mere assertion that you are unique and compelling.  It comes across as lazy and arrogant to say so.  Articulate the specific attributes, events, characteristics that make you unique.

The second lesson from these examples – own your name. I don’t walk around my office calling my co-workers “Chad” or calling my stapler “Chad.”  It would just cause them to think I was having an identity crisis, or some more severe neurosis.  So don’t go around putting your name on random things.  If you are going to extend the reach of your brand identity to sub-brands, have a carefully deliberated strategy behind the architecture.

The point of this post isn’t to mock sincere marketing efforts of others; it is to highlight common mistakes that come at a high cost to brand equity, with the hope that fellow marketers would learn from these examples and deliver unified, unique and compelling brands.

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The Psychology of White Space


You can tell a lot about a person by how they fill the empty space in their home… or anywhere.  Even in conversation.

People talk too much when they’re nervous, if they talk at all. Often, the nature of this talk is haphazard, a little too loud and somewhat self-centered.

I think it often ends up that way with insecure brands as well.

But insecurity isn’t always the cause.  Some people talk excessively because they think it will help them control their surroundings and manipulate people around them. Some have a gift, and can usurp unsuspecting victims, wowed by charisma.  But many are completely put off by such shameless displays of narcissism. 

Why Space Matters

It is a tragedy that we respond to empty space on a page, in a conversation or in our daily routine with angst. Something in us tells us to hastily fill every trace of quiet with noise, because that space challenges us to become aware of our environments, our spaces, both internal and external. 

Empty space also challenges us to give up control and to assume a receptive attitude. Space frees us to become focused and mentally present, a precondition to any relationship. 

Your Brand has a Persona

If you want any semblance of a relationship between your brand and your customer, however abstract that relationship may be, you had better dignify your audience with space – in video, radio, graphic design, messaging, typography and any other possible means of communicating.

Attracting qualified customers and retaining them requires an art for communication.  You can’t spam or shout yourself into capturing marketshare.  You have to woo and, however far-fetched it may seem, find ways to use creative mediums and methods to converse and listen to your customers.

For better or worse, your brand has a perception, one associated with a persona – real or imaginary.  How you engage your target audience will determine whether they like this individual or not.

Listening is how good friendships are formed. And what marketer really enjoys shouting constantly?  I don’t.