“Why not upset the apple cart? If you don’t, the apples will rot anyway.”
~ Frank Howard Clark
Have you seen the following video from a few weeks ago? It features a guerrilla marketing strategy of organizing a faux flash mob in Belgium to promote the launch of Turner Network Television’s TNT Benelux network. This video of the live event has seen incredible viral success; in fact, it has been viewed over 30 million times and it’s the second-most shared ad ever. I’m guessing that the Turner Network got what it wanted out of it. Thirty million people across the world now wholeheartedly believe that “TNT Knows Drama.”
Yes, But My Business is Different…
It’s a pretty phenomenal video, isn’t it? But, of course, it’s not for every business. Still, it came to mind as a counterweight to an issue that I’ve seen again and again: The failure of too many businesspeople, lawyers and other professionals to understand that Bland is a Bad Brand.
In fact, some whom I speak with seem especially proud of their stodgy brands. It’s almost as if the blandness is a point of honor for them, as if it conveys the importance and the gravitas of what they do. (“You won’t see me playing around with Twitter or Facebook,” they say.) Forget about flash mobs and guerrilla marketing; these businesspeople are hesitant to engage in any marketing activities that someone, somewhere, might possibly see having too much risk. I’m talking about fairly standard marketing tactics such as writing a blog, giving social media a try, putting some personality in their bios and posts, that type of thing.
On the face of it, this may seem to make sense. These are not kids, but seasoned professionals who have worked their whole lives to get where they are. Why should they risk the most important thing – their professional reputations – on some untested idea like using social media or “personalizing” an otherwise perfectly suitable blog post?
The Greatest Risk Is Not Taking Any Risks at All
Because here’s what they don’t understand: These days, the greatest risk is not taking any risks at all. Why is this true? Because the world continues to get more and more competitive. And as the book title says, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” So, unless you’re retiring in a few months, chances are you’re going to need to start doing things differently from how you’ve always done them just so you can continue to keep your professional head above water.
Which brings us to the title of this blog post. Why is Bland a Bad Brand? Many of us remember (or at least have heard about) the days when big and bland was what everyone aimed for. Think 1950s through the early 1970s. At the time, IBM was the 800-pound gorilla of the tech biz. Not only was it the unrivaled giant, but it was the safe choice for everyone. In fact, a popular saying at the time was, “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.”
Obviously, those days are long over for IBM. But the more interesting point is that no company has stepped in to replace Big Blue. When was the last time that there was a company about which you could say that their products or services were always the safe choice? A few years ago – at least in many offices – you might have been able to say that about Microsoft’s Windows operating system. However, with Apple’s inroads into the corporate market, even that has become less and less of a sure thing.
The Branding Lesson of Apple vs. Microsoft
And, of course, Apple’s huge gains in the marketplace over the last few years have not been made in a vacuum. The company has succeeded in large part because of its brand (which happens to be the opposite of bland), and it has done so in large part at the expense of Microsoft, which it has helped to brand as the blandest of the bland. Just look at some of Apple’s commercials from the last few years for confirmation of this theme:
Indeed, the era of bigger and blander equaling better and safer is over. But has your company or professional services firm kept up? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s only important for traditional consumer companies. What we’ve been witnessing with the social web is an entirely new way of communicating with one’s customers and clients – and for them to communicate with us. Today’s customers and clients want to do business with a company or a professional that they can relate to. That means that it doesn’t treat them in a paternalistic, condescending or overly corporate manner. There is too much competition out there for any company – and for any professional – to be able to continue to act that way and still attract customers and clients.
Safe and stodgy is no longer safe and stodgy. It’s just stodgy.
What are you going to do to get rid of the bland in your brand?