First published February 8, 2007 in Mediapost’s Search Insider
One of the great ironies of marketing is that we’re in the communication business, but many of us aren’t that good at it. And I’m not talking about broadcasting to a million people, I’m talking one-to-one, get-your-point-across communication. We tend to hide our real meaning under reams of spun language, taking the core of the message and wrapping it in the cotton batting of “marketspeak.”
We’ve come to believe that to make a brand message successful, you have to create mental pictures that tie the brand to vague and hopefully attractive emotions. But when it comes down to saying why you should buy something, in a way that hits home with a consumer who’s ready to buy, we’re at a loss for words.
Talking the Talk, Not Walking the Walk
Evidence of this was so painfully and clearly pointed out in a recent study by the Louws Management Corporation, where 80% of 711 advertising and marketing professionals surveyed said they are strongly aware of their company’s brand positioning, but only one fourth of them “can clearly articulate (their) company’s brand position to… clients, customers or prospective clients.”
Perhaps those of us in search have a unique perspective on this. After all, there’s not a lot of room in the few dozen words typically found in a search listing to expound on the warm fuzzies. You’d better get the point across, and fast, because the typical searcher is only going to “engage” with your listing for a few seconds at best before exercising his control and clicking through to your site, or not. You become a marketer of few words, nailing the “hot buttons” quickly and precisely. In fact, we’ve gone too far the other way, convinced that everyone who is searching is also buying immediately, an assumption that’s at least 85% wrong, according to past research we’ve done.
Brand = Experience
But I think there’s something more fundamental and troubling in these survey results. Jakob Nielsen once said that on the Web, branding is much more about experience than exposure. This is true to a profound level that escapes many marketers. In the new world of empowered buyers, they engage with a brand at a thousand different touch points, and every one of those touch points builds a brand “mosaic” — an image of the brand that the buyers participate in building because the Web has empowered them to do so. Every single member of the company that consumers connect with also helps build this collective brand picture.
And that’s why the findings of this study are so deeply troubling. If 75% of the people who are the marketing stewards of the brand message can’t express it in simple language, what hope is there for the customer service person, in a contracted call center, who, for one customer at one particular point of time, is the entire brand? In this new reality, where brand is built on the front lines, through real contact with real customers, rather than in carefully controlled messaging that comes through a handful of advertising channels, crystal-clear communication within an organization becomes an imperative.
In this new definition of marketing, cult-like cultures, an obsessive focus on corporate purpose and company-wide alignment are the prerequisites for success. Brand messaging has to be more than marketspeak, it has to be a mantra, the cornerstone of a strategy that is communicated to every member of the company repeatedly, clearly and fervently. It has to be a concept so crystal clear, so absolutely unambiguous, that there can be no questioning what it means. Every single member of the company has to have it on the tip of their tongue – and, infinitely more important, embedded deep within their beliefs. That’s the only way it can be consistently spread through the thousands and millions of interactions and conversations that make up the new brand mosaic.