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Six Stupid Things Marketers Do to Mess Up Their Brands

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Most organizations are full of well-educated people with access to lots of data, training, and resources. Yet those people continue to do stupid things that mess up their business and personal brands.

Here are the top six stupid things marketers do.

1. They don't have a 'why'

Simon Sinek's awesome book on this topic, Start With Why, shows the lack of brand and strategic clarity that comes from not knowing your why. Or worse, not having a why in the first place.

Without a why, there's very little left for an audience to connect with a brand emotionally—other than a mild and apathetic form of loyalty. In this state, your only why is "make money." That means the relationship between a brand and its audience becomes purely transactional. Employees get paid to do work; customers buy products and services. That creates a flat, boring existence as a brand—and being boring is one step away from irrelevance.

2. They mistreat people that touch their brand

One of the most exciting aspects of the social-business era is that it reveals the jerks and bullies who have hidden behind titles and firewalls. Yet each day is populated with stories of abusive treatment to employees, customers, and communities—and of customers abusing employees and companies.

A key element of social business is amplification: Whatever you are offline is much, much louder online. As such, abusive behavior quickly becomes your brand. Abusive brands (both personal and corporate) eventually will only attract people expecting to be abused, perpetuating co-dependency.

3. They tolerate mediocrity

As I mentioned, being boring kills brands by pushing them towards irrelevance. That typically starts with a slow, creeping tolerance of mediocrity. "Good enough" becomes the benchmark for products, teams, marketing, etc.

That mediocrity eventually seeps into the human experience—first with employees then with customers. Eventually, "good enough" becomes your brand's unwritten slogan and what your customers tell their friends. Brands struggling with mediocrity also struggle with social business. How do you amplify apathy?

4. They become blind to first impressions

Part of the curse of mediocrity is losing your self-awareness. It makes you numb to how you are perceived—particularly with first impressions related to visuals and human experience.

In personal brands, that is manifested in being out of style, struggling with technology, being a poor communicator, etc. It also is manifested in how you interact with people and the impression you leave with them. For corporate brands, that is being blind to the thousands of details that make up a visual brand and human experience: websites, employee appearance, lobbies, front counters, etc. This is why leaders and employees of great brands have such high emotional intelligence. It is the leading contributor to self-awareness.

5. They buy into mass-market thinking

Assuming large populations of people are exactly the same creates... well, sameness. And sameness is the enemy of awesomeness.

Mass market demographics were a key measurable in the golden age of advertising. They are now sand in the fuel tank of social business. Yes, there needs to be consistency regarding how products function and services are delivered, but audiences view themselves as unique individuals and expect to be treated as such.

Moreover, mass market thinking can make you appear tone deaf and out of touch. An example is when brands try to attract Millennials by treating them as a demographic.

6. They focus on campaigning instead of storytelling

Campaigns are a left-over of mass market thinking. Because they encourage sameness, campaigns create a check-box mentality and tend to dilute what makes brands interesting and compelling, which is the story part of a brand.

Though exceptions exist, most ad campaigns are boring regurgitations of previous campaigns. When you combine campaigns with tolerating mediocrity, you wound your brand even further with low-quality execution. Campaigns also perpetuate the old thinking that brands are created through advertising.

* * *

A smart brand has a clear why, treats its audiences with respect, has high standards, has self-awareness, views people as individuals, and is great at telling stories. Those types of brands will occasionally do something stupid—make a bad strategy decision, make a mistake, and have a disaster—but because they have the positive traits of a great brand, they can recover quickly from a misstep.

Moreover, those organizations learn from these lessons and create new operational and personal habits to prevent them. All that starts with executive leadership. Awesome brands have awesome leaders that manifest these characteristics in their lives.

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Justin Foster is a senior strategist at fassforward consulting group.

LinkedIn: Justin Foster

Twitter: @fosterthinking

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  • by Susie Wed Jun 18, 2014 via web

    Which brands do all these (or nearly all) well in your opinion?

  • by Tim Thu Jun 19, 2014 via web

    While you have some great points here, I am disappointed in your comments about mass marketing. A great campaign can feature a message that is received as if it were customized for the listener/viewer/reader because it speaks about a story that is relevant to them for that particular product/service. I have used radio effectively in this regard. I find it hard to believe that with analytic capabilities that are used to create personas this is not considered mass marketing from your rationalization above - how do you think digital agencies create their demographics? And check out the recent Ipsos study that showed 60% of millennials watch live TV compared to 71% on social media every day, and 44% trust messages from mass media and 53% from UGC. You make it sound like the numbers are substantially more divergent.
    The quality of the idea and the special way the message is written can still trump a media method selection.
    Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

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