Let’s talk about soccer, shall we? (Worst introductory sentence ever. I’m sure 99% of my readers just ran away screaming.)
Germany always had a good soccer team. The Brazilian team in 1974 was so wonderful to watch but Germany won the cup. England played more exciting soccer in 1990 but Germany won the cup. South Korea played inspired in 2002, Germany beat them and went to the final. You can’t argue with 3 World Cup titles, 4 second places and 4 third places in 17 appearances.
Germany didn’t play the most exciting soccer. It wasn’t artful. They had a strategy and they stuck to it. No matter what. That’s why they won 3 titles and are one of the most admired national soccer teams in the world. You might not like them. You might even hate them. But you have to respect them.
What brands can learn from the German soccer team
It never ceases to amaze me how often brands express a viewpoint that goes against their carefully constructed brand strategy. They spend time and precious resources on a brand strategy, just to throw it in the trash bin when there’s a chance for short-term profits or an implication they don’t like.
Nobody says brands should stick to their strategy, no matter what. When you’re 4 goals behind, you better change your strategy or go home. The reason why brands invest in strategy is to achieve their goals in the most efficient and effective way possible. It’s a guide to make the right decision, to be reminded of your strengths and weaknesses. Strategy is the independent voice that hits the buzzer when you’re about to make idiotic, short-term decisions. If you don’t have a strategy, you can justify any tactic, any investment.
Too many brands play to the cheap seats. I’d rather play for the cup.
In 5th grade,my history teacher was a relic with a red book and pencil. At the end of each lesson, he gave us homework: “Memorize page 23-25.” At the next lesson, he would open his red book, close his eyes, drop the pencil on one student’s name. The remainder of the hour, that student was questioned for 1 hour. The outcome of that questioning determined the the grade for the remainder of the semester. When your name was called early in the year, you never opened the book again. When your name was called late, your short memory was on fire for 6 months. None of us really learned anything during that year. None of us liked history.
In 6h grade, a new history teacher was introduced. In the first hour, he recreated in vivid details life in ancient Rome: How the upper class lived, how the slaves suffered, what it was like to walk the streets of Rome. On that day, history became my favorite subject.
There are teachers who teach subjects. And teachers who teach students.
The same division can be found in advertising. Most brands teach subjects. They have an agenda, a curriculum. They need you to know about the torque of their cars, the silkiness of the product, their fat percentage. They look at the world like the relic teacher: You listen to what I have to say and you will learn.
The second category of brands are concerned with what their audience wants and needs. They develop a narrative, they are involving and entertaining. They care to educate their audience in ways that suits them best.
What’s mind-boggling about our business is that we all encountered terrible and great teachers, representing the most basic rules of communication and salesmanship. Still, the majority of us act like relics.
I love coffe. I get a coffee twice a day. And every other month, I switch coffee shops.
It’s not that I don’t like these coffee shops, or I don’t like the atmosphere, I just don’t want another relationship in my life. I don’t want to commit to a coffee shop. I don’t need the ‘Cheers’ moment where everybody knows my name, knows my order, has it ready for me when I stand in line. My coffee is not important enough to me for me to have a relationship that revolves around it.
Many marketers find that odd. Because a lot of marketers act as if the end all and be all of their existence and their brands is a relationship.
Sure, there are maybe masses of people so lonely that they need to converse with toilet paper or beer or cleaning supplies. Maybe relationship marketing works with these people.
There are masses out there who want to be left alone. They don’t want anybody to know their name. They are the ones at the self-checkout counters at airports and stores.
Sometimes the best you can do for customers is just to leave them alone.
Brands are empty containers of meaning. Companies and marketing departments have a meaning they want the customer to believe, and customers develop meaning through interactions, both good and bad, with the brand.
This kid has a clear view of brands she has interacted with. She has a totally different meaning than the one intended to brands with which she has little experience. The brand is empty of meaning until we fill it.
A brand is meaningless until both the company and its customers create meaning through a relationship or experience with each other. Important to note: meaning is created by both the brand AND the customers. Understanding how your followers view you is critical to developing a successful and beloved brand.
You won’t be able to understand your customer by conducting focus groups, online surveys or social mentions. You need to talk to your customers. Which means getting out of your office and meeting customers in their environment. Experiencing how they engage with the product. Self-awareness is one of the most difficult aspects of branding.
It shouldn’t be about approval. It should be about learning.
Most companies fail because they treat headaches. Not broken limbs.
I have more than 100 apps on my iPhone. I use 10 of them regularly because they solve an important problem for me. All the other apps are nice to have and relevant but their solution lacks true urgency.
The majority of companies/brands that didn’t make it through the Great Recession or continue to struggle are companies that treat headaches. Nice to have a pill or massage to battle the head pounding. But not life-threatening. You’ll make it through another day with a headache, hard to imagine when it comes to broken limbs.
When the Great Recession started, businesses that treated minor head pressures disappeared overnight: the 100th clothing store, the 51st coffeeshop, the 11th video store. Over the next years, businesses went belly up when they treated minor headaches. In early 2012, businesses are starting to disappear that treated major headaches.
It’s part of the de-leveraging process our society is going through. We cut the fat, only invest in necessities. At this point in time, people don’t buy products or services. They buy solutions.
Be brutally honest
Are you solving a significant problem? Did you identify and quantify a real problem worth solving? If you answered at least one question with a resounding “Yes”, you will succeed.
If your answer was a whimper, a muttered “I don’t know” or a loud “Yes!” – time to start rethinking your business. We don’t know when things get really better and luxuries are affordable again. We know businesses don’t have the luxury to wait until then.