We Want to Suck Your Wallet Dry

by Bruce Kasanoff on July 9, 2012

(3rd in a series of articles on UnderBranding) – In the mid-90s, I was on the IBM account at Ogilvy, during the period at which IBM’s brand went through a massive transformation. Worldwide, IBM fired all its agencies and gave the entire business to Ogilvy.

The brand went from arrogant to approachable. The phrase we used internally was “magic you can trust.” IBM’s new TV ads, for example, were funny and self-deprecating.

I was an interactive strategist then, tasked with helping to bring IBM’s new brand to life online. The top levels of IBM.com reflected the new brand, but click a few levels down and you’d find some engineer in North Carolina controlling pages that were deep in the old IBM.

Truth is, the brand changed long before the company did. But changing the brand told the employees what the company was to become. To IBM’s credit, management changed the company to match the brand. They got out of the PC business, which IBM never fully understood. They became a services company. More recently, they adopted the Smarter Planet theme, years before everyone else realized that was a brilliant move.

Change your brand, change what’s underneath it.

IBM is the best case, because it is a company at which the head of marketing and the CEO work together. Marketing is inextricably intertwined with strategy and substance.

But at too many firms, marketing is about spin. There’s not enough substance under the brand.

To me, substance can be boiled down to three things:

1.) Culture: Does the culture of your company fit with the promises your brand makes?

2.) Conditions: Do your employees have the systems and tools necessary to deliver what customers expect, given what your brand communicates?

3.) Compensation: Are employees rewarded for doing what your brand promises?

Even at the most mercenary of companies, no brand promises, “We Want to Suck Your Wallet Dry” even if that’s what managers spend every waking moment berating employees to do.

“Sell, Sell, Sell” is not a popular brand message, either, but it is a popular cultural pillar.

If you are getting the idea I think many brands are hypocritical, you’re right. That’s exactly the case.

As I’ve said elsewhere, my favorite book this year is Extreme Trust by my friends Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. They make an eloquent case that lying, exaggerating and over-promising are strategies that can’t possibly survive the flood of smart technologies. Customers will discover – and share – the truth, whether you like it or not.

You need substance under your brand, and if it is not there now, in vast quantities, you need to declare an emergency.

I say this knowing that most companies will do nothing of the sort, and with equal confidence that such companies will fade to obscurity.

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