Branding, Buzz Words and B.S.

corporate rebranding“Authentic”. “Passionate”. “Dedicated”. “Committed”. The list goes on.  Think of an admirable character trait and some organization, somewhere, is using it as part of their branding campaign.

The trouble is that, firstly, most of these words are used indiscriminately without really thinking through all the implications, and secondly, they usually describe attributes that are better left for others to attach to you.  Let’s examine a few:

“Authentic”.  Really? Authentic what?  ‘Authentic’ is a term that is used to denote that an item is a genuine product of a particular author. 

It could describe a letter describing the most heinous of crimes that has been ‘authenticated’ as having been written by the criminal who actually committed the crimes.  It could refer to a Da Vinci painting.  For instance, the painting of the ‘Mona Lisa’ hanging in the Louvre is authentic while the one you purchase in the museum gift store as a memento is a printed copy.  So, if you attach the term ‘authentic’ to your organization, what exactly are you saying?  Acme Widget Company is authentic?  Acme Widget Company is genuinely Acme Widget Company, the original one and not a counterfeit company using all of Acme’s credentials?

What about “Passionate”?  Acme Widget Company is passionate.  Passionate about what?  Passionate about making money at all costs? Passionate about taking as long as possible to fulfill orders?  Passionate about helping that pain-in-butt customer who buys something, then after using it returns it for a refund?  Passionate about doing whatever it takes to make a customer happy? What exactly is Acme passionate about?  The same thing applies to words such as “Dedicated” and “Committed”.

“Excellence” is another favorite in the branding world.
Once again, what is this referring to?

What exactly is ‘excellent’? Who decided that whatever it was deserved the term ‘excellence’?  Was it an award?  Was it a customer? Or was it chosen in a brainstorming meeting in the hope that simply saying ‘Excellence’ would convince customers that every transaction, product and service would live up to this aspiration?

You get the idea.  The thing is that when you ascribe to yourself these characteristics, you run into the danger that it is already so overused that no one hears your real intention.  The other issue is that most of these accolades should really be awarded to you by others – your customers, for example.  Imagine if you went around telling everyone you met, “I’m intelligent.  I’m successful. I’m a great manager.  I’m excellent! I’m authentic!  I’m passionate!”

Maybe some people do that, especially in today’s aggressive North American business culture, but when you run into this it’s usually a bit of a turn-off and you tend to discount the person as being a braggart.  The fact is that if you want people to think of you in those terms, then you have to earn their respect.  The accolades have to be a spontaneous expression of your customer’s estimation of you.  To be ‘authentic’, accolades have to be based on what others are saying about you, not what you are saying about yourself.  In other words, they are a reputation.

So, what if you genuinely deserve to have nice things said about you?  How can you ensure that prospects who haven’t done business with you yet and who haven’t been referred by an existing customer, trust you enough to work with you?

There are a few ways to do this, and one of the best is to cultivate customer feedback, with permission to use this in your branding.  In other words, gather testimonials on an ongoing basis.  When you do, don’t get the generic  “The guys at Acme are great.  I love doing business with them.” type of testimonial.  Develop a short survey that can be filled in offline or online.  On the form, ask questions about how the customer rates various aspects of your product or service on a scale of 1 to 10.  Then ask for comments about what the customer liked best and what they liked least about the transaction.  This way, not only will you pick up gems that you can (without blushing) use in your branding, you’ll also discover how you can improve.

Another way to cut through the branding clutter without embarrassing yourself is to use the ‘Avis approach’. 

You might have heard about the very clever way that Avis went against the mainstream marketing wisdom to offset the fact that they were not number 1 in their industry.  Avis announced, “We’re number 2.  We try harder.”  I don’t know about you, but when I first heard that statement it made me do a double take. It made me smile and it made me wonder just how much harder they were going to try to give me better service that their competitor.  It achieved its purpose: I heard it. I thought about it. When it came time to hire a car, I remembered it.

When you are branding, or re-branding, and brainstorming about all the things you’d like your customers to say and think about you, why not ask those who are already doing business with you?  Get it from the horse’s mouth.   Testimonials used in the right way and in the right places are extremely powerful.  How should you use testimonials?  That’s the subject of another article, so subscribe for an update on when it’s published.

If you really want to cut through the branding B.S. and actually be heard, say something that means something.  More importantly, say something that means something to your prospective customer.  Be sure it’s the same thing you are saying to your existing customers, otherwise you’ll find that there is a cognitive disconnect, both with your customers and your staff.