Friday, January 27, 2012

Nope, you aren't the best

There’s nothing like a snappy slogan. We all love those cute one-liners that touch us on an emotional level. They seem so effortless to say that they appear to be simple to make. One has to remember that making a brand and a slogan isn’t easy…unless you want a really mediocre one.

There’s one major trap in brand and slogan making – the over-promise. Some people wrongly think that the brand should be a dream painted very large. They argue that a big brand has to have a big promise. It has to sound “big” or what good is it?

The problem is that these “big” brands can’t always deliver what they say. They say something too “big”. It can be a promise that cannot be met. Or it can be a promise that doesn’t work all the time – a fair-weather dream.

In my opinion, the classic example of this is Ford. In the 1980s, they come up with “Quality is job 1” to combat Asian imports eating into their market share. They did invest more in quality, hence the slogan. However, quality was still not perfect. And so, for thousands of people who bought a Ford the slogan was a joke. I know one of them. She bought a Ford. In her case, quality was definitely not job one. Her car never ran right. And what happened when she experienced this disconnect between the brand and her reality? She told everyone about it. And so, Ford’s marketing was all for naught with everyone she told.

A quick look around Ontario shows that the over-promise is still alive and well. I recently saw a new brand for a local economic development agency. “The possibilities are endless,” the slick brochure screamed at me. On first glance it didn’t look too bad. That changed when I discovered it was for a town of 6,000 people with lots of brownfield sites, few major industries and limited services. This gave the idea of endless possibilities a new meaning. I guess there’s lots of possibilities when there’s nowhere to go but up.

Another brand for another city caught my eye. “Prepare to be amazed,” it proclaimed on its website. Then I saw that the major employer in the town cut their workforce from 12,000 workers to 3,500 a couple of years back. Amazing indeed. They still use the slogan, though.

And then there was my favourite city brand – “Where you want to live.” It sounds lovely and I’m sure it was intended to make the city it was created for sound more homey and attractive. But the city, which I won’t name, is not in fact the place where people want to live. The last census says it grew at a rate four times LESS than the provincial average.

So, before you go saying your non-profit is the best, is perfect, can do anything and such, think again. Resist the temptation to say you provide the best care or that you are making a better world. You are, but unless you can do that ALL the time, it will come back to haunt you.

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