I chased an idea through Google today, looking for a reference and ended up poring through cybernetics, Eigen-behaviors, the artwork of Boetti and the writings of Heinz Von Foerester. It was the idea of the Eigen function that hit a branding nerve and has brought me out of my work-induced flow state to post this before it disappears.
The best definition I can give of an Eigen function is that its expression is self-validating. The representation of the thing is the thing itself. “This sentence has five words.” “This sentence contains nine syllables.” Eigen functions. These are self-contained proof points of their own existence. And that’s the point.
How many of our actions are branding Eigen functions? We can’t say, “Our brand delivers a unique customer experience” and then deliver the same experience our customers can get from anyone else. Similarly, we can’t say, “Thank you for waiting… your call is important to us…” when clearly, the fact that we’re playing soft hits of the 80’s while we waste their time shows our caller, irrefutably, that their call is not important to us. We must be our brands, completely, in every possible way. Done right, our branding must be clearly animated in everything we do – and this is bloody hard work. But it’s necessary if we’re to elevate how our customers perceive us from the mundane to the sublime.
Some brands approach this level. Buying an iPod has an out of box experience like few other products I’ve ever bought. Particularly the earlier versions. My local Starbucks delivers on the idea of a “Third Place” with personal, eye contact service and a vibrant atmosphere. But these are two iconic companies known for their CEO’s taking the marketing reins. This may be why they are iconic.
How would taping an 8 1/2” by 11” sign that says, “EIGEN FUNCTION!” above your door, in plain sight, change how you do your job?
Industrial design: if I worked at a company that stressed “hands-free” or “telematic” or just plain “use it in your car,” I’d be ensuring that every aspect of material finish, tactile interface and audio output was designed to be used by someone who can’t see. Touch alone. When you’re driving, you shouldn’t have to look at the product to use it. Sony’s UX Turbo audio tape, back in the day, was a classic Eigen function product – side A was smooth and side B was rough to the touch, the label had adhesive that instantly adhered so as to not peel off in the cassette deck, and the shell withstood 140 degrees of heat without warping.
Customer service: if I worked at a company that ever, ever said, “your call is important to us…” I’d make sure that I treated customers with more than just respect – I’d give them something of such unique value that callers in the future would beg to be put on hold. Give them an hourly promotion that only they can access – either through voice activation or through a unique URL – so that you can show them that your call is, in fact, important to us and that we appreciate the inconvenience we’re putting you through.
Channel marketing: does your product say “high and to the right premium performance” while your channel marketing is based on rebates? Is your certification program an embodiment of your core branding? Does it teach your channel partners your language in a tone and manner that you’d write your ad copy in? Or do you cut corners?
Out of box experience: if you’re talking green and sustainability on your website, are you using re-grind plastic on your product? Are you minimizing packaging? Are you using compostable packing material? If your brand is a premium product, are you finishing well with an out of box experience that continues to promote a premium image, even after the sale? Did you make it easy on your newest customer or did you require them to find a heavy duty pair of scissors to hack it open?
HR and Recruitment: if your brand talks about being customer-focused, do you acknowledge each and every resume you receive? Do you tell a candidate – or a complete stranger who lobs a hard copy resume into your CEO’s office mail box – where they stand in the process? Or do you just ignore them? Does your brand ever get to the HR department’s daily check list?
Our brands should be Eigen functions. Everything we do should be shot through the prism of our branding, our values and our mission – from our letterhead to our hallway carpets to our recruitment practices to our office layout. And yes, even to our marketing and product development. Everything. This is how a culture is made. Not to mention how an icon is born.
Spot on, Stephen. The heart of the problem is that marketing and product claims are often made in a disconnect from business identity. They’re treated as separate entities: Marketing and reality. I’m not sure what the antonym of an Eigen function is, but a synonym is the truth.
Jay: violent agreement all around – the idea of an Eigen Funtion as it pertains to a brand personna is a strong one. So much of what brands do is based on ‘satisficing’ – we stop thinking things through because we’ve found a suitable and agreeable enough solution. “Put some music and a nice script together for people who we keep on hold.” Maybe the CEO, if they care enough, will even listen to it once.
The problem stems from the typical brand manager’s definition of what marketing is versus what Peter Drucker’s definition is. Our brand manager controls a number of outbound marketing elements and considers the job well done if they are in alignment; Drucker tells us the truth when he says, “marketing is the sum total of everything a company is and does, WHEN VIEWED FROM THE CUSTOMER’S PERSPECTIVE.” What a customer experiences may be completely different from what a brand manager is able to put into play. And therein lies the rub.
We must look at everything that touches our constituents, internally and externally, and re-engineer each and every touch point to make it live and breathe the brand that we’ve created. This takes a CEO with the vision and perseverance to do it, as well as everyone else, to make sure this happens. Hard work – which is why so few do it.
Stephen, I couldn’t agree more. In my world of higher education, marketing is largely considered advertising, publications and the Internet; oh, and branding, but that is much of the time interpreted as logo design and management. But all of that is the easy stuff of marketing. The things you’ve described require greater courage and better management at all levels. It’s about policies and procedures (what, we have to change?), and getting the right people on the bus in the right seats, and the wrong people off of the bus. That takes courage and hard work. Brand messages and logos are easier. Thanks for your blog. I’ve appreciated it.
Rick: thanks for your thoughtful note – a real problem in the marketing function today is the outbound mentality that pushes our thinking into the narrowly defined fields of advertising, PR and maybe online and ignores the myriad other consumer touchpoints that frankly mean more to our customers than all the other stuff does.
Our customers don’t separate what we say from what they experience – it’s all one in the same to them. To “us,” speaking generically, it’s a different department. Product management is here, customer service is there, online is down the hall, and “marketing” is somewhere else.
Interesting to see that those iconic companies that are branded to the core all seem to have CEO’s as their “chief marketers.”