Branding and Other Nonsense

As the Quakers say, “My friend speaks my mind.” In this case, my friend is Gerry McGovern. And he’s never wrong.

Here’s the full text of is latest New Thinking E-Newsletter. It’s absolutely worth a read and a ponder.

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Image: Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons

BRANDING IS BULL

The origin of the word branding comes from the branding of cattle. Let’s travel back in time 100 years and listen in to a branding conversation by two cattlemen.

“Very impressive brand, Tom. It has a wonderful aesthetic feel to it.”
“Do you think so, John? We did think very deeply about the colors to choose. And we did have an intense debate about whether to use Athelas or Freight Text Pro. We decided to go with Athelas. It has that certain je ne sais quoi.”

“Absolutely! Superb choice. It will bring the customer on an emotional journey. Listen, the reason for my visit, Tom, is that I’d like your advice. We’re thinking of doing a rebranding.”

“Why is that, John?”

“Well, you know, the last couple of years have not been so good for the brand. We’ve had a drought, got hit by some diseases. The meat quality on the cattle is not great. So, I thought that if we refreshed the brand we could capture back some of our old market share.”

“What a fantastic idea, John! I know just the branding agency for you. They understand bull better than anyone I know.

“It’s amazing, Tom, isn’t it. Take the same old scrawny tough-as-nails meat, put some nice packaging and branding on it, and it just flies out of the store.”
“Those branding guys are magicians, John. They truly understand human emotion and are so brilliant at manipulating it. With the right brand you can sell any sort of bull.”

“And to think, Tom, when I was a kid we had such a limited understanding of what branding was. We thought it was just a unique mark we made on the cattle so that we would know who owned what. When I was a young, foolish teenager, I was under the mistaken impression that what mattered was the meat itself.”

At this stage John laughed. Tom laughed too. They both found the idea that the meat was more important than the brand absolutely hilarious.

“Some idiots say, Tom,” John said in between gushes of laughter, “that the meat is the brand!” Tom looked at him for a moment and then literally rolled around the floor laughing.

Where do people get these crazy ideas from? Don’t they know that coming up with meaningless, interchangeable taglines like: “Live life at a faster pace” is much more important than the quality of the product or service? Haven’t they learned from the magicians of marketing and branding that it’s all about coming up with a compelling story? That the right font and the right color are the quickest way to a customer’s credit card?

Branding is bull, and that’s a fact. Branding in practice is the manipulation of human emotion, the targeting of human weaknesses, the wrapping of the product in an image that has got nothing to do with the product itself. The gushing, smiling faces of actors pretending to be customers. Branding is the mark of the establishment. The opposite of authenticity.

Yes, we humans are fools and we have long fallen for branding and the whole school of psychological manipulation that goes behind it. But there is a reaction underway. Many of us are getting tired of being fools and being fooled. We go to the Web now, to search, to research, to check the facts, to read up on what people like us who have bought the product have experienced.

Gerry McGovern

I encourage you to follow McGovern. On Twitter, he’s @gerrymcgovern.

Subscribe to his newsletter at: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/new-thinking

Is Your Customer King?

Probably not. There’s a lot of folderol in management circles about making sure that you put the customer first, that the customer is always right, that the customer relationship is the most critical relationship of all.

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Image: Tomasz Steifer, Gdansk

Then, of course, big business (let’s not lay all the blame at their feet; small business can suck at this, too) comes along and undermines anything the “boots on the ground” are actually doing on the ground.

From the latest New Thinking by Gerry McGovern:

In many organizations, the current customer is so disrespected that support is outsourced. You outsource the things that matter least to you. You outsource to save money. You outsource because you don’t care. You outsource because you don’t think something is a core competence.

It doesn’t get any truer than that, babies. It’s all about grabbing the most that you can and the devil take the hindmost.

Why do you hate dealing with Comcast/Time Warner/Verizon/fill-in-the-blank-with-other-hated-company-of-your-choice? Because their customer service stinks.

Two weeks ago, my local electricity provider (recently purchased by a mega-conglomerate) sent me a letter telling me to URGENTLY get in touch as someone needed to come over RIGHT AWAY to change my electric meter.

I called. I got the now-ubiquitous automated operator. I tried several different options (“Press 2 for Residential Customers”) and finally I just started yelling “Represenative!” and it finally connected me. To someone who didn’t know what in the hell was going on. Who lived states away from me. *sigh* Well, at least he didn’t live in a foreign country.

I’m still waiting on the promised technician to come out to fix something that THEY wanted fixed. I don’t care if they replace the dumb meter or not. I just called because I thought it would be helpful. I won’t make that mistake again.

“You outsource because you don’t think something is a core competence.” Gerry’s been right a lot, but he’s never been more right than right here.

“Avoiding Advertising Like the Plague”

From the latest New Thinking:

People are avoiding advertising like the plague. You are as likely to get hit by lightning as you are to click on a banner ad. [emphasis added] And what’s the response of the advertising industry? Native advertising, which is advertising that does its very best to fool the customer into thinking it’s not advertising.

Blind trust is gone. And gone with it are the traditional models of advertising, marketing and communication. Today, we trust in use. Social media is not me and my brands. It’s me and my friends.

I don’t get how people in the industry don’t understand this. I guess that’s why people are pouring money into advertising at astonishing levels and wondering why the needle doesn’t move. *sigh* For the record, I’m no Johnny-Come-Lately to this; I was telling people to stop most advertising spending in the ’90s. They looked at me crooked then; they look askance today, but, like the old saw goes, “they laughed at Edison, too.”

Gerry McGovern: On the Web, Helping Instead of Selling

McCambley stresses that the Web is about doing things, and that the mobile Web is even more task-focused. He quotes Googles Eric Schmidt, then with Sun Microsystems, who said way back in 1998 that “Customer service is the killer app of the Web.” So true. According to McCambley, “Brands such as Google, Zappos, Amazon, eBay, and others win because they ask “How can I help you?” instead of “What can I sell you?”

via gerrymcgovern – NEW THINKING: Busy people need help, not interruptions.

Oh, Good Lord, yes. A thousand times, yes.

Every time a New Thinking comes out, I’m reinvigorated. It’s like a little bit of validation from a far-off Irishman who does not know me, but who reads my mind and tells me that I’m not crazy!!

UX: What Do Users Really Want? Ease-of-Use, That’s What.

There are days, most of them, really, when I wish I could carry Gerry McGovern around in my pocket. He’s just so spectacular at cutting to the chase when it comes to consumer interactions and the web.

So, why don’t more organizations get usability? Because they often measure the wrong things. Like satisfaction, engagement, interaction, relationships, loyalty. So much marketing and branding hyperbole.

“Feeling overwhelmed, consumers want support – not increased marketing messages or “engagement” – to more quickly and easily navigate the purchase process,” Corporate Executive Board (CEB) stated in a study it published in 2012. “Brands that help consumers simplify the purchase journey have customers who are 86 percent more likely to purchase their products and 115 percent more likely to recommend their brand to others.”

In a study of 7,000 consumers, CEB found that only 20% want a relationship with a brand. In a study by Havas Media in 2013, over 90% of Western consumers said they wouldn’t care if most brands disappeared. Brands and marketing has a hugely inflated view of how important they are in the lives of customers. It’s time to get real.

“Our research indicates that the impact of simplifying purchase decisions for consumers is four times stronger than the favored marketing strategy of engagement and is the number one driver of likelihood to buy,” said Patrick Spenner, managing director at CEB.

Read the whole thing.

P.S. — Read that first paragraph of his again. Now again. And again until it’s memorized.

Buyers want technical, accurate content | Gerry McGovern

What’s a poor marketer to do? Forget about everything you were taught in marketing school. Instead, marry your basic communication skills with those of the technician. Your potential customers want detail; they want facts, they want the smell of authenticity. Dare it be said: tell the truth. Admit flaws. Tell them about weaknesses in your product because it will make the strengths seem more real. Does that sound like total heresy?

via Buyers want technical, accurate content | Gerry McGovern.

No one has ever been more “on the money” than Gerry McGovern. From a few months ago; catching up a bit today.

KISS Off — Beginning to Make Your Website Work for Your Clients

“Simplicity should be to self-service as chocolate is to joy or sadness is to taxes.”

That’s how Gerry McGovern begins his latest New Thinking missive.

And here’s how he ends it: “Organizations are making life easy for themselves and miserable for their customers.”

Gerry McGovern. Image: ux-lx.com

Gerry McGovern. Image: ux-lx.com

Think about that statement when you look at your own website. Think about that when you visit a competitor’s website or your healthcare provider’s website or your cell or internet provider’s site. Think about that the next time you have cause to visit a college or university website or a big box retailer’s site. Or, and this is a big one: think about that the next time you have to apply for a job online.

Organizations big and small are making their websites work for THEM and not for YOU, the user. It’s maddening and frustrating and ultimately, I fear, most of us have given up. “This is just the way it is,” we’ll sigh and go on to the next thing.

But here’s my thought: it doesn’t have to be that way. A few simple fixes — simple for the user, not so simple for the implementer, especially if they have to convince senior management first — and you can make your site stand out from the crowd because your site visitors can actually get something done. And that’s a real step forward.