Dear CMO:

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.