Don't Let Your Colleagues Be Deluded by Flashy Headlines

Success Comes From Smart, Methodical Processes

By Published on .

"We should be doing this," the CEO says as she drops the magazine article on your desk.

You read the first paragraph. It's all about a competitor doing something novel, even crazy. Never mind that it lacks even a hint of relevance to your branding strategy. You dutifully schedule a meeting with the agency that specializes in it.

Welcome to brand management by headlines.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin runs Baskin Associates, a global brand consultancy, and blogs at Dim Bulb.
On the scale of "uh-oh" moments, this ranks somewhere to the left of a focus group missing the punch line of your utterly hilarious commercial. But it's still a problem, and since you help invent the stuff, it's partially your fault.

The best strategies in our business are like those in policing: Success comes from smart, methodical processes, such as profiling customers, data crunching and other numbingly boring activities.

Yet we celebrate the flashy creative, even if it's often shorthand for a customer conversation we don't deconstruct. We publicize technical experiments because they're shortcuts to a conclusion that everyone can visualize, like kicking down a door with our guns blazing. In doing so, we doom ourselves to adopting them from one another. Bad ideas circulate just as quickly as good ones.

So what happens when you publicize your latest, inconclusive test -- and get that headline equating "new" with "better," commensurate with your agency glibly praising a "try" instead of providing a reasoned "why"? Endless conversations via the latest social gadget. Virtual campaigns that do virtually nothing. Branded content that considers wasting consumer time an accomplishment. Mobile anything. That weirdly cool thingamajig that your competitor did? Nobody should be surprised that it doesn't work the second time, or here, quite like it worked the first time, 15 or so minutes ago.

We'll just try something crazier next time.

Why do many people think that branding strategy is driven by new episodes of a prime-time crime drama, when it's really a rerun of a boring, umpteen-part series on public television? Because we haven't found the story line for where all those consumers of ours have gone.

Since we tend to treat the non-marketers on our leadership teams as spectators, they tend to think that brand expression is the denouement, not the setting, character development or other boring details required to write a narrative.

So our CEOs and boards gravitate to scenes in which something happens. It's what we tell them, so they're inspired to share "do this" suggestions with us.

Here's a plot twist: We're the experts, so let's figure out how to make the boring branding stuff sexy. If we translated it into headlines that our organizations could grasp and remember, at least we'd all be reading the same script.

Questions to ask about headlines

COMMUNICATE: Could you brand your branding with the norm of your efforts, not glitzy exceptions?

PROMOTE: What if you blogged to your board about the latest news before they told you?

FOCUS: Why not suggest operational ideas to your C-suite counterparts?

MEASURE: Might it be possible that the true cost of distracting your team with experiments outweighs the benefits?
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