Dear CMO:

The promise of branding is that you will be able to count on a consistently delivered experience, time after time. When you pop open a Coke. When you go to Disneyland. When you order the hanger steak at Les Halles. You don’t want someone to “do it their way” with their own special flair. You want it your way. The way you had it when you first had it – the rationale for why you came back, not for nothing. Get “creative” and your brand isn’t what it was anymore.

I recall reading that the same concept applies in the study of managing people at work, as well. If your initial impression is positive, you naturally tend to react negatively when that employee’s performance is below standards. It’s interesting to note, however, that the converse is true, as well: if an employee judged to be a sub-par performer uncorks a fabulous concept that shows a highly professional grasp of his or her responsibilities, managers tend to react… negatively. It goes against our expectations and we don’t like it.

Which brings us to “big” companies acting “small” — you’ve seen them, the established brands that attempt to slap on social media, blogging, viral marketing, and other “small company” guerilla activities. When a large behemoth haphazardly acts “small”, we don’t like it. We react in a way reminiscent of watching our uncle try to pick up a bridesmaid at our cousin’s wedding. One can appreciate the effort that went into the comb-over, but the overall experience just looks unnatural and kind of creepy.

Look at BL’s notes on Pepsi and their “Jones Cola Campaign” at the Daily Fix for a live description. Does anyone expect to design their own Pepsi can? Does anyone care? I really doubt it. But there are those at Pepsi that must think this is terribly hip and now. I’d guess that they have reams of data to show that it’s a trend, that their desired demographic is on board, and that a few representatives of said demographic probably said (in a fairly artificial setting and without any real emotional involvement) that they’d “definitely” buy it if they had the chance. Which they won’t, in all honesty, not because they’re evil or lying but because they simply don’t care very much. You can convince yourself of almost anything, given enough data.

Here’s what I said in response to BL’s post:

Anyone want to vote on whether this will have a positive financial effect on Pepsi? If this idea, at Pepsi, were priced at $10 a share, would you invest in it? Where do you think it would go?

I’m wondering if or when big brands will stop trying to bolt on “instant social media” ideas thinking it will make them hip. The consumer generated ads on the Super Bowl were complete thuds and I’d be shorting this stock if I could.

You expect certain things from certain brands — when they do something you don’t expect, we don’t like it. Brands promise a consistent experience — this isn’t a Pepsi kind of thing, is it?

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Key Takeaways:

> Implementation is the difference between “insightful” and “successful”. A brilliant concept will go nowhere while a mediocre idea will rule the world if its execution is done with precision and thoroughness. How we take an idea like social media and craft it to make sense given our own brand’s context and expectations, therefore, is the big idea.

> Alignment, communication, and culture jump to the front of our priorities once the above lesson is internalized. If we’ve got a super hip person with fresh ideas working on a staid and conservative brand, we need to concentrate on translation. The job here is neither to become instantly hip nor to muzzle the poor bastard but to translate fresh thinking and creativity into the language of our brand, our strategic capacities, and into our market’s expectations.

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If we can all agree that branding is an exercise in consistency – preferably the delivery of a very positive experience, time after time – then adapting new thinking requires translation into your brand’s language before dropping it into the proverbial lap of your market.


Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny