There are words used by young advertising professionals that I try desperately to avoid. Two of the most painful phrases for me are “unique selling proposition” and “branding.”
When I was young, those phrases meant the same to me as they did to everyone else. But I take comfort in the words of Muhammad Ali, “The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”
Here’s what thirty years have taught me:
- Very few “selling propositions” are unique.
If the public cares enough about a particular “selling proposition” to respond to it, your competitors will quickly adopt it. So tell me, which was the first online company to offer free shipping and how long did it remain “unique” to them?
- Those things that make you truly unique are rarely “selling propositions.”
You can take two things from this observation. The first is that when you become overly committed to differentiating your “selling proposition” from your competitors’ “selling propositions” you’re about to make a mountain out of a molehill. You’re going to build a sales campaign around something “unique” that no one really cares about.
The second thing you can take from this observation – and this is important – is that unique things about you don’t have to be “selling propositions” to be valuable.
Keep that thought in mind while I tell you my problem with the word “branding.” We’ll come back to “unique things about you” in a minute.
- Most people think “branding” is the consistent use of a logo, a slogan, a color palette and a font to create recognizable layouts.
But this isn’t really branding. It’s a style guide for labeling.
Yes, your company should have a visual style guide as well as an auditory style guide that includes music and other sounds, and a linguistic style guide that includes 9 to 14 brandable chunks, distinctively memorable sentences and phrases that people associate with your company.
Brandable chunks are not slogans. Slogans, for the most part, are AdSpeak.
AdSpeak is anything your customer interprets as “blah, blah, blah.”
One form of AdSpeak has relevance to the customer, but no credibility. In other words, your customer believes it to be hype. The second form of AdSpeak is credible, but has no relevance. Your customer believes you. They just don’t care.
Have you created crackling and sizzling brandable chunks? Do they dance from your lips and make people smile? Does everyone in your company use these brandable chunks in daily conversation with current and prospective customers? Do you sprinkle these chunks randomly throughout your ads?
But let me be clear: even if you have a visual style guide, an auditory style guide, and a linguistic style guide that includes brandable chunks, all of these put together still fall short of true branding.
True branding is bonding.
This is why those things that make you unique don’t have to be “selling propositions” to be valuable in an ad campaign. If your quirks and foibles and preferences and flaws cause people to bond with you, isn’t that enough?
If I’ve had a secret as an ad writer, that’s been it.
Johann Hari summarizes this essence of true branding six minutes into his amazing TED talk, Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.
Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other, but if you can’t do that, because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief. Now, that might be gambling, that might be pornography, that might be cocaine, that might be cannabis, but you will bond and connect with something because that’s our nature. That’s what we want as human beings.”
You might wonder why an ad man would be listening to TED talks about addiction. I hope you will excuse me for sounding Machiavellian, but isn’t the goal of “people becoming addicted to your brand” exactly what we’re hoping to accomplish?
True branding – bonding – happens when the identity hooks of people become intertwined. We bond through shared experiences and beliefs, hopes and fears, fascinations and flaws.
People will be attracted to you when you quit being scared to be seen as you really are.
I’ve been telling my clients this for years.
Maybe someday I’ll get there myself.
Roy H. Williams
The wizard put me in charge of updating The Dictionary of the Cognoscenti, so I added ten new definitions this week. You can download the new master list at WizardAcademy.org or at MondayMorningMemo.com or you can just read the new concepts and their definitions on page 17 of today’s rabbit hole. That’s right, I said seventeen. – Indy
Rich Carr – a cognoscenti of Wizard Academy – is founder of
The Education Engine. Listen in as Rich explains to Roving Reporter Rotbart how business owners and managers can build their own online courses for customers, employees, or as an additional revenue stream. Rich and his programmers have created a platform so simple that anyone can design and offer an effective online course, yet sophisticated enough to have greater impact and effectiveness than face-to-face workshops, speeches and Power Point presentations. Clients include Wizard Academy faculty and alumni along with some Mom’n’Pop retailers and a number of the largest corporations on earth. Listen and learn how to share what you know at MondayMorningRadio.com