Yesterday I was in a new-business meeting. We were at the offices of a local company looking to make a push in the 4th quarter; their brand has been around for a long time, but recently had some tough times…they’re rebounding from their difficulties and doing a great job of it in a down market. I feel like we at Hoffman York get pulled into a lot of these situations, where a brand has turned a corner and is looking to do something new, do something fresh and get some more good attention. I think we do a pretty good job of that, so I guess it makes sense.
And while I love the presentation portion of the new-business meeting process–the adrenaline rush of presenting is one of my favorite thrill rides–it’s the after-deck discussion that really gets me going. But yesterday’s meeting left me more excited than I usually am. The Interactive/Digital portion of the preso usually comes last–that’s me–so a lot of the initial seated questions were about the web.
Here’s the question that got me excited:
“On the web, is it possible to talk about yourself in a self-effacing way without alienating your core customers?”
I nearly jumped out of my seat. I can talk about the web until I’m blue in the face, but selling people on the worth of the newer web ideas is hard work. So to hear a higher-level marketing person say something like that, just after I was talking about how to talk to blogs, distributed e-commerce (Etsy.com), and the web not being the exclusive domain of Gen Y… “Well, now we can really start talking,” I thought. I was stoked.
On the web, there’s really no situation where keeping it real can go wrong. More on that in a second.
Last time I checked, “Self-Effacing” was one of the qualities that humble people have. And when was the last time you said, “I hate that guy. He’s so humble”? Never. You wouldn’t say that. Because people like humble people. Humility is part and parcel of putting others first and is absolutely part of what the brand in discussion is all about. I mean, there are a few brands I can think of where humility might not be part of the mix–maybe some super luxe brands? Vertu? Bentley? Is good customer service possible without humility, and is that not part of your brand?–but I think it might be applicable in almost all situations.
Keeping it Real
["When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong" - some offensive language]
I recently read 37signals new book, Getting Real. It’s based on their experiences building their online productivity software suite, which I highly recommend, by the way. And while what they’ve written is specific to software development, it nevertheless is applicable to all kinds of situations.
If you’ve read or heard anything about 37signals, you know that they are all about finding the most efficient way to a solution. Where most software companies try and fail to gold-plate a product before it comes out, including all the features iterated in their technical spec document, 37signals works to isolate the functionality that is key to the task at hand, and then works to make that really work before launching a product. Then they allow people to play with it, and continually update it with metrics and their experiences in mind.
And while it’s a philosophy that any Project Manager, Planner, AE, Strategist, Programmer, Designer, whatever, would be well-served to consider, I think it’s probably most useful when thinking about branding in an increasingly digital world.
Mostly because I think we get wrapped up in talking about brands, spend time charting them out and examining them and thinking about them and dreaming while staring into a storefront and writing and rewriting propositions, designing and redesigning logos, choosing and re-choosing color palettes… [breath] we end up spending so much time on these things that we never get a chance to actually do anything.
The old model of branding goes something like this:
- Start with agency-specific model of branding
- Endless research before a solution is proposed
- Endless revisions before a solution is launched
- Development of Brand Standards
- Enforcement of Brand Compliance
The new way of doing things goes something like this:
- Discuss the problem with people you trust
- Devise a solution and act
- Course-correct as necessary
I’m being a little simplistic about it, and probably a little harsh on the old school. And sure, plenty of good brands were created using the old process, no matter what you or I may think of it.
The Human Model
Let’s think about this for a second.
Some people like to talk about brands in the context of people. I personally like to think of it in this way. Some don’t.
“What would Brand X do if they were a person? What would they wear? What would they look like? How would they talk to people? How would they act in this situation?”
If you think of things in this way, who goes through the “old” process before they act on something? Maybe the most neurotic person in the world. Most people think for a while, poke around on the internet if it’s something regarding some sort of purchase, talk to their friends and family, and then go off and do whatever it is they’ve been contemplating. Granted, people often make horrible decisions with life-changing ramifications. But I think if you are considerate, humble, and think of others first–as a brand or as a person–you’ll make decent decisions and be able to course-correct if you make any mistakes. And if your brand is strong enough, with enough people surrounding it, you’ll have the support you need to get through the tough times.
So, Now What?
I’ll have to rely on a piece of advice that my mom is always giving me, one that I think has helped me stay on track: “Just Be Yourself.”
If a brand can just be itself in everything it does, it’ll be better off. Instead of telling people that you’re the best at X and the leader in Y, just be the best and interact with people the way they want to be interacted with: like people, not consumers. Like people, not site visitors.
And lastly, some advice that my dad gave me before I went to college: “If someone is going somewhere and asks if you want to go, go with them. Do as many new things, go as many new places as you can.” Think of the most well-rounded people you know. The people who have been abroad. The people who are well-read. The people that everyone likes. These people have probably been more places, tasted more food, and tried more things than most people. Why not be like that if you’re a brand?
So, now what? Be well-rounded, but do what you do very well. And be yourself.