Many Companies Over-Represent… and Believe Their Own Word Games.

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By Hank Moore

Corporate Strategist

It is both comical and sad to analyze certain promotional hype that one hears.  Some companies claim that purchasing their product is the “be all, end all” panacea for life’s dilemmas.  If only you will buy their version of “The Answer,” then you can surely fast-forward your way to instant riches, success and an easy life.

This is not written to take swipes at responsible branding, marketing and advertising.  More than 80% of what one sees and hears is clever, informative, research-based, sensibly executed and intended to orient target audiences toward marketplaces.  This is written to address the bigger issue that some companies believe the hype that they are issuing.

I just heard this snide put-down of business strategy from an organization: “We are currently working to deploy a Branding initiative.  This is part of a long-term program and is beginning to develop some meaningful traction, thanks in large measure to the addition of a marketing director to our staff.  At this juncture, it would not be mutually productive, nor financially possible, for us to consider focusing additional talent on this portion of our strategic planning and implementation.”

How stupid is that?  Business strategy is not a “portion” of branding.  In reality, marketing and its subset of branding represent one percent of the Big Picture of any business enterprise.  They do not guide strategy.  Strategy must be the umbrella over all the minor niche pieces, such as accounting, branding, technology, training, etc.

Some companies are downright parsimonious about themselves.  Some either skillfully lie to get what they think they want…or may really believe themselves to be what they hype to publics who don’t know any better.

Many of the mis-statements represent “copywriting” by people who don’t know anything about corporate vision.  Their words overstate, get into the media and are accepted by audiences as fact.  Companies should examine more closely the distorted messages and partial images which they put into the cyberspace.  Our culture hears and believes the hype, without looking beyond the obvious.

Here are some examples of the misrepresenting things one sees and hears:

“Achieve Perfection.”

What they’re really selling:  Computer software.

My analysis:  There is no such thing in life as perfection.  Continuous Quality Improvement is a higher level of thinking.  Computer software is merely one tool out of many.  It cannot single-handedly create quality.

“How the Fortune 1000 Made Their Fortune.”

What they’re really selling:  Telecommunications equipment.

My analysis:  Pagers and cell phones were not invented when they made their fortunes.  Communications is fundamental to maintaining, but technology is only as good as the people using it.  The bigger question is: how accessible are the executives, and how is company vision articulated and shared?  That’s the kind of communication that really grows companies.

“Speak the Language of Business Success.”

What they’re really selling:  Foreign language lessons.

My analysis:  English is the international business language, and most people do not use it to best advantage.  Workplace illiteracy is much more rampant than people even understand.  Many managers have poor people skills, as well as poor verbal-written communications skills.  Business writing and public speaking classes should be mandatory.  The ability to communicate must be taught to all who wish to attain business success.

“Getting you back to the way things once were.”

What they’re really selling:  Home owners’ insurance.

My analysis:  There is nothing more permanent and positive than change (which is 90% beneficial).  Too many people spend much of their lives clinging to the past, fighting change and criticizing those who progress.  While insurance is important, nothing should promise a return to the past.  That plays into the hands of has-beens.

“Has All the Trappings of a Box Office Sensation.”

What they’re really selling:  Trucks.

My analysis:  That means that it’s based upon flash, sizzle and hucksterism.  This week’s box office sensation will be forgotten soon enough.  There’s always another waiting to take its place.  Why do TV newscasts devote so much valuable airtime to box office grosses for movies?  That’s not real news.  Further, it reinforces the erroneous message that sales rankings are the primary measure of a company or product.  Anybody who hangs their hat upon changeable, temporary rankings is headed for a fall.  The public also loves to see celebrities, products, trends and cultural icons fall just as quickly as they rise.  It’s a sick phenomena.  Nothing — not even reputable films — should be judged only by fickle box office ratings.

“Accelerate Your Business.”

What they’re really selling:  Computer software.

My analysis:  Not every company grows at the same rate.  Database software does not make a company grow.  It is a tool of people who put thought, planning, products and processes into perspective.  Computer “consultants” are not business strategists.  Their product is one out of hundreds of business tools and must, therefore, be kept into proper perspective.

“The Bumpy Road to Success Made Smooth.”

What they’re really selling:  Small business banking services.

My analysis:  Banking, like computer hardware and software, is a tool of the trade, not a driving force.  Success is a long process, based upon how well one takes the turns.  There are no shortcuts to true success.

“Family Tradition.”

What they’re really selling:  Usually retailers, restaurants, service companies.

My analysis:  If the founder is still active in the business and is accessible to customers, then the reputation is upheld.  Dysfunctional family-run businesses reflect dysfunctional families.  Hiring blood relatives, in-laws and old friends is not always good business.  A few pull their share, and others coast on the certainty of nepotism.  Research shows the odds are against family businesses going past a second generation, for these and other reasons.  Tradition is a red flag expression because it implies that change has not occurred.  Nobody does things exactly as they did in the early days.  To say they do is deceptive to customers, employees and the good family name. Real tradition is predicated upon change management and steady evolution of the business.

“#1 in Sales.”

What they’re really selling: You should buy from them, since so many others do.

My analysis:  #1 is for now.  Sales rankings constantly change.  To buy only because a company hypes that they are #1 is not a valid reason.  Buy what you want…from a company that you respect.  Also, if they’re #1, you’re just another sales statistic and customer service will suffer commensurately to the numbers behind whom you must stand in line.

“World Class.”

What they’re really selling: If you want to be associated with a winner, buy from them.

My analysis:  The organization that claims “world class” is trying too hard to be put in the league of others.  “World class” is not self-bestowed…it is earned via a long track record.

“Wealth and Riches.”

What they’re really selling:  Their product is all that you need.

My analysis:  There are no shortcuts to wealth and riches.  Nobody will give away their secrets.  Pyramid marketing schemes take advantage of failed hopes and ungrounded wishes.  As P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

“For All Your Needs.”

What they’re really selling: Wanna-be syndrome.

My analysis:  No product or service fulfills all of a customer’s needs.  To suggest otherwise is narrow-minded.  The more self-assured business makes long lists of what it doesn’t do.  It knows and relishes its niche, without trying to be all things to all people.

“Fastest Growing.”

\My analysis: When a company says they are the “Fastest Growing,” beware!  These circumstances are likely in place, each of which will defeat their claims:

  1. Systems are not in place to handle rapid growth…perhaps never were.
  2. Their only interest is in booking more new business, rather than taking care of what they’ve already got.
  3. Management is relying upon financial people as the primary source of advice, while ignoring the rest of the picture (90%).
  4. Team empowerment suffers.  Morale is low or uneven.  Commitment from workers drops because no corporate culture was created or sustained.
  5. Customer service suffers during fast-growth periods.  They have to back-pedal and recover customer confidence by doing surveys.  Even with results of deteriorating customer service, growth-track companies pay lip service to really fixing their own problems.
  6. People do not have the same Vision as the company founder…who has likely not taken enough time to fully develop a Vision and obtain buy-in from others.
  7. The company founder remains arrogant and complacent, losing touch with marketplace realities and changing conditions.

Characteristics of Good Slogans-Campaigns

and, thus, Company Philosophy

  • Focus upon the customer.
  • Honor the employees.
  • Show business as a process, not a quick fix.
  • Portray their company as a contributor, not a savior.
  • Clearly defines their niche.
  • Say things that inspire you to think.
  • Compatible with other communications.
  • Remain consistent with their products, services and track record.
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