Last week we explored the tenuous link between self-worth and LinkedIn. In case clicking the link is too much work, my thesis was that your network is something to be guarded, nurtured and managed as the basis for legitimacy in the eyes of other people. It’s not some after-hours-rave-flash-mob thing where anyone with an IP address and a smile can frolic with your friends. After all, you have standards.
Today, I want to take it one step further and suggest that your brand needs some standards of behaviour too. We’ve all seen it. It happens in the nicest neighborhoods to the best of families. Wayward brands sneaking out at night doing god-knows-what with god-knows-whom. It’s just harmless fun, but sometimes the first you know of it is when the corporate Brand Police show up at your door wanting to ask a few questions. At worst, it can destroy your brand’s credibility and it will have to go college in another country or work at Taco Palace forever.
There are at least three regrettable hijinks your brand can get up to while you’re at book club: The Inappropriate, The Dissonant, The Promiscuous
I have learned a few things from teenagers including the flashpoint of mascara (surprisingly low), why that thing about metal in the microwave is important and the way they validate the trustworthiness of websites and online information. Turns out, Generation G takes a good look at the advertisers on a given page to decide whether or not it’s a safe place to be. I found this tidbit out at a Learning Partnership forum last May.
In fact, one of the GenGs invoked a brand I used to work on as one she uses to evaluate the quality of her meanderings online. I wanted to cry: partly because she trusts the brand but mostly because I didn’t have the slightest idea where most of our ads ran online since they were (and still are)booked through ad networks and brokered half to death in SEM land. I suspect they turn up on some pretty dodgy pages, though. The opposite also happens to perfectly good B2B brands who let ad networks at their blogs and other assets. These delightful roommates turned up at the bottom of a blog page for an Indian international trade association.
They might be wondering why nobody is liking them on Facebook.
This stuff is way worse than your brand dating that pierced kid who whispers to fire hydrants and never takes off her mittens. This is like your brand dating her mom. It’s just wrong.
I am not smart enough to have attended Stanford’s business school, but I know it to be a place for the latest thinking in all things business and technology. So I was pretty chuffed to receive their catalogue in the mail offering videos of lectures by all the top thinkers. David Demarest, the university’s VP for Public Affairs opens the catalogue with a letter (and his photo for no reason) and he says this: “We invite speakers who are leaders in their fields — speakers noted for their ability to provide both innovative solutions and practical advice for the challenges you face every day in the workplace. These engaging, thought-provoking talks are available to you on DVD.”
David! DVD? Is your 8-Track player broken? Couldn’t find enough monks to deliver the lectures on illuminated manuscripts? Next thing you know, I will be mailing off a cheque with a little cut-out order form or finding the last working fax machine in my office to send it off. Oh, look, there’s the address and fax number at the bottom, just above the shipping and handling information. The Stanford Graduate School of Business site promises “Tomorrow begins here. It has, it does, and it will.” Seems to me they have a bit of last week to clear out before they can start on tomorrow. And that sentence needs work.
David, how much time do you spend in your living room, with your kids, watching Anil Gupta’s mesmerizing rendition of Leveraging China and India for Global Advantage? When was the last time you used the DVD drive in your PC? I’ll bet you thought that was a cup holder, didn’t you? How about your iPad? How many DVD drives does that baby have? Dude, your brand needs to go to a fraternity kegger, not craft group at the Methodist church. Two words, David: TED Talks.
Mark my words, all that’s going to come of this is an unfortunate tattoo and a reputation.
Another point of dissonance for many brands is the sales experience. Look no further than your average luxury car showroom. Gone is the lovely jazz soundtrack and muted colours in the print and broadcast ads. You’re in Roundup-The-Savings Land, Partner. And Big Ricky knows you really wanna buy, buy, buy that pretty Lexus or Mercedes in his overlit showroom with the help of the same guy who made you a latte last week at Starbucks.
I would hope the disconnect between promise and reality isn’t as great in B2B but if you haven’t actually attended a sales call or sales-organized event lately, you may want to get on that to ensure they’re not hauling out the trampolines and slingshots.
Irrelevance is a form of brand dissonance. When your brand comes in late at night smelling of charity garden tours, walk-a-thons for tortoises or high school yearbooks, that’s often a sign of Executive Whim at work, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult to explain at the gym. Some brand acquisitions, like many marriages, are similarly irrelevant and strange. Cisco’s abduction and murder of the Flip camera is a great example of this one. It has that creepy middle-aged-man-trophy-wife feel to it. Martin Lindstrom says that 90% of brand alliances fail. Wonder why.
Some brands just can’t stop sleeping around. And it’s really very sad to see brands so carefully reared, sent to all the best schools and imbued with such potential jumping into bed with just about anyone on the Board of Trade mailing list. Whether through the pimpish services of licensing agents, or the misguided hopes of a CEO’s golf buddy, bad things happen to nice brands if nothing is done. On the consumer side, Ferrari comes to mind, as does Roots, Pierre Cardin, Bvlgari (which deserves what it gets for the pretentious spelling thing), Philips and even Nike, all of whom are turning up in cars, hotels and consumer electronics for no particular reason.
Happily, most brand hook-ups last about as long as the idiot marketer who approved them. But before we throw together a Serves-the-Hussy-Right sandwich with a side of Smug, let’s remember that this is a very hard one to police on a small scale. Do you know which golf tournaments your sales team is taking to the mall? Are your R&D people hanging out on a street corner with some questionable technical association? Is a local division stepping out on a legitimate partnership with a less picky brand? Are you spending a lot of time documenting impressions from places you don’t recall being? This is precisely the difference between brands that are popular and brands that are popular with the football team.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing to look for the right relationships, and brands should have a Tiger Woods-like fear monogamy, but I would suggest that you look at everything from your trinkets to your licenses to your sponsorships and ask yourself how proud you’ll be of it all in twenty years.
Bizmarketer is Elizabeth Williams
Follow me on Twitter @bizmkter
or email firstname.lastname@example.org