Monday, March 04, 2013

Both sides now.

You can probably tell by my long silence that it’s been a busy winter. That excuse, of course, is the blogger equivalent of the dog eating your homework, but it’s really true this time. Sure, I’ve had lots of work to do, just like you probably have. But these past few months, I’ve had an extra handicap. You see, I’ve got myself involved in the startup of a new business (it’s pretty cool, but I can’t say much about it yet). So, versus my usual role as smug advisor speaking truth to power and billing by the hour, I’ve been operating from the opposite point of view. I’ve been… how to put this, exactly… um, a client. Or imminently, anyway. I’m taking care of a brand from the inside, and I’m poking around to see who might be able to help bring it to market one of these days.

Well. Let’s just say that my desk hasn’t been the scene of so many facepalms since that whole Gap logo thing. Seen from without, the marketing communication business these days sometimes resembles nothing so much as a pack of five year olds chasing a soccer ball, at least if their own marketing tells us anything. But look, it’s not too late. I don’t have to make any hard decisions this week. There’s still time to change. If I were you, here’s where I’d start:

First of all, stop saying you can do all the things. I’ve prowled web site after web site until I was bleary with existential misery, trying to figure out what the hell everybody does. You remember positioning, right? Well, you might find it an easier concept to sell to clients if you commit to it yourself. Just, you know, tell me what you’re good at. But, no. Instead, everyone from graphic designers to digital shops to ad agencies to PR firms to transmission repair specialists would like me to believe that they can do ALL THE BRANDING THINGS. All of them. Strategy whatnot all the way to, you know, TV commercials and stuff. I need shop nowhere else. And, just to keep it simple, half of them use almost identical language to say so. If I were from another planet trying to figure this business out, I’d conclude that branding must be easy, since practitioners are lining the sidewalks like bubble tea cafes. If you’re wondering where your margins went, start with the illusion of oversupply.

Second, act like you want to do business. Pretend, if you must (I do remember the conflicted, sinking feeling of getting a new assignment when you’re already slammed. I’m not made of stone). But at least for this first contact, I’d like to feel like maybe you’re going to be an enthusiastic partner. You would be surprised at how rare this is. An astonishing number of marcom companies don’t even monitor their ‘contact us’ email accounts. One, a vaunted social media shop – I mean seriously vaunted, like Fast Company vaunted – met with silence two separate attempts to contact them through their own digital channels. When I finally called their San Francisco office in exasperation, it rang through to their New York one. WTF, as the kids say. Another estimable vendor's web site actually specified a minimum budget if I expected my message returned with any vigor. It had more zeroes in it than you might guess. Part of me admired the frankness. Part of me made a note to find their office and egg their cars, which I assume are exotic. It lacked, at the very least, grace. 

No, this job is going to be harder than it looks, that’s clear. The last time I was a client, you just had to hire an agency. They’d send Darrin Stephens over – the Dick York one - and we’d be shooting a commercial before you could say “pass the swordfish.” Now, branding is more like building a rocket ship than it is like writing an ad. It’s just so strange to hear the marketplace saying, “anybody can do it, and we’re all too busy.” Wish me luck. 


Scott Lewis said...


Look forward to hearing more about it, after the stealth mode is over.


John Kuypers said...

Bruce, sounds like you're in for another exciting ride! I too, have noticed that everyone is now a branding expert. Makes me wonder what all that strategy and research stuff we learned meant. Were we just padding our hours or was there once a discipline? Thanks for your humorous take on the world of marketing - always a pleasure to read. Cheers, John

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