In response to last week’s blog post How To Skin A Horse Of A Different Color, John Calia wrote, “A great modern day parable that explains the power of inductive reasoning. It’s McKinsey-level strategic thinking applied to everyday business and personal challenges.”
Thanks, John. I just thought it was a simple explanation of a complicated concept.
That’s what we do every day — reduce very complicated and not very compelling product explanations into short, simple, easy-to-understand, and profitable brands. Because these strategically simple messages make consumers regard, remember, and respond.
But if you’re thinking about how to reduce your brand message to just one word, I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, Bruce, defining an issue and standing for something makes a lot of sense and I can see how it works for others, but…(big sigh)…I’m different. After all, my business is much more diverse, much more creative, and much more customized to my clients’ specific needs…(bigger sigh)…you see, I do too many different things. There’s just no way I could shoehorn everything I offer into a couple of words.”
Really? Your business is too complicated to brand simply? Well then, consider Volvo.
Volvo is ostensibly in the car business. But that means they are really in a number of different businesses — transportation, manufacturing, research and development, metallurgy, engineering, upholstery, design, import/export, logistics, to name just a few. Plus, they operate retail stores (for both new and used products), and also provide sales, service, and accessories. Volvo operates under the governmental regulations of the hundreds of countries, states, and municipalities they operate in. They work in multiple languages, with multiple consumers, and in multiple currencies. And don’t forget that they don’t just make consumer automobiles. Volvo also manufactures buses and trucks and provides engines and engineering for lots of other companies. And yet despite this incredible complexity, Volvo still describes themselves with their commitment to one word: safety.
Volvo’s brand description isn’t even about what they actually provide. Nowhere in their branding do they talk about transportation or about getting from point A to point B. They talk about safety. And this positioning is so valuable that when Volvo introduced an SUV, arguably the new American suburban family car, their XC70 outsold all foreign SUVs (European and Asian) combined.
But it’s not just Volvo that understands the value of a simple brand position.
New York is “The Big Apple.” Chicago is solidly Midwestern. Los Angeles is movies, Las Vegas is sin. Miami is hip. What are you?
Apple built their brand on the da Vinci line, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and it’s driven their product philosophy ever since, most recently resulting in one single button controlling your iPhone or iPad. Despite the outcry from Blackberry users, Apple’s iPhone does not have a raised keyboard.
Here’s what Mr. Mo’ sang:
“Two cars, three kids, six phones; a whole lot of confusion up here in my home.
500 stations on the TV screen, 500 versions of the same ol’ thing.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well, I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple.
I called my doctor on the telephone; the lines were open, but there was nobody home.
Press one, press two, press pound, press three; why can’t somebody just pick up the phone and talk to me?
Well I went down to the local coffee store; the menu went from the ceiling all the way down to the floor.
Decaf, cappuccino, or latte said the cashier; I said gimme a small cup of coffee and let me get the hell up outta here.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well now I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple, real simple.”
Thoreau famously wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” But maybe if he had heard Keb’ Mo’s song, he would’ve cut his credo in half to just “Simplify.”
Has anyone else noticed the recent rash of Millennials hurting themselves or dying preventable deaths falling off of waterfalls, mountains, and bridges?
A 26-year old from San Ramon “…hiked with three other people to the peak of Half Dome. She fell 600 feet to her death Sunday while trying to descend a landmark rock formation.”
“An Oregon woman was in a Portland hospital Wednesday after falling 50 feet from a wilderness cliff, breaking her leg in two places and surviving more than three days on wild berries, caterpillars, and creek water.”
“A young man lost his footing, slipping close to the edge of a waterfall. A female companion frantically grabbed for him but stumbled. Another hiker followed and the three were swept over the powerful 317-foot Vernal Falls. Authorities at Yosemite National Park are still searching for two of the bodies.”
Yosemite alone has recorded 17 deaths in an unusually fatal year. “While five visitors have died…from natural causes, the others were accidental and often preventable,” officials interviewed by CNN said.
Authorities are desperately searching for answers to explain the recent rash of deaths. In other words, what the hell is going on?
The common factors between many of these recent accidents are the age of the victims and that several of them were venturing into spots they didn’t belong so they could take photographs.
People falling off of mountains while taking pictures isn’t new, of course. The most famous may have been Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside who fell to his death while snapping Rosalind Russell in the 1958 movie version of the Broadway musical Mame. But today’s death count is unprecedented.
Why the sudden need for these pictures of daring-do?
To post on Facebook, I’m sure. Today’s Millennial generation doesn’t merit an experience for the value of the experience itself; rather they value the documentation and distribution of those experiences on social media sites such as Facebook. In other words, an activity is not real unless someone else sees you do it.
Millennials have lost the ability to determine what should be private about their lives in general. Larry Constantine put it this way on his blog anaLOG: “…If I stand on a soapbox in a public square, the default assumption is that everything I say or do is grist for the mill…If I lean over to you on a panel while covering the microphone…the default assumption is that the aside is a private exchange.
(Now) there is a generation coming up that does not understand these distinctions… Couples fighting on Facebook and people throwing tantrums on Twitter are all symptoms that we are losing a crucial distinction between public and private domains…” So are people falling off mountains while taking photos.
But that’s only half the answer. The other common denominator is that today’s victims are members of the Trophy Generation where everybody wins, nobody is a loser, and there are no negative consequences. Why not ignore warning signs and railings or hike up mountainous trails in flip-flops if all the danger has always been sanitized out of your life? Millennials often haven’t learned that life is not like a video game where you can go down in flames and then just hit the reset button. There are no do-overs in the analog world — physics simply wins. That’s why it’s not called the “theory of gravity” — it’s the law.
I hate to be too mercurial about such an unhappy and preventable state of affairs but there’s an important seismic shift occurring here. If young consumers are risking their lives to share the evidence of their exploits then surely this behavior will manifest itself in other areas of their lives, including their purchasing tendencies. This should be a wake-up call to marketers, especially older, less tech-savvy ones, who pooh-pooh online marketing and communities. Companies must create opportunities for their Millennial customers to interact online and share their product-centric experiences. For example, cruise lines must provide online posting sites; hotels and destinations need to allow their customers to show and tell both their upcoming plans and their experiences; and banks and restaurants alike need to post and link photos and recaps from their networking opportunities. In fact, businesses in all verticals must find opportunities for their Millennial customers to express themselves and communicate with their cohorts. After all, while Millennial customers may be less brand loyal than their older peers, they’re just dying to be in Facebook.
Right now the oil moving inexorably towards our coastline is on everybody’s mind. The media has created the 24-hour news feed, the battle lines have been drawn between BP and the pelicans, and consumers are hanging onto the edges of their seats for the next update.
The consequences of this tragedy, perhaps the largest domestic environmental crises to date, will go on for decades. But what happens when the next great new event pushes the Deepwater Horizon off the front pages? What will be the long-lasting effects to the beachfront tourism industry from Texas to Florida and beyond?
Do you think the issue won’t go away that quickly? When was the last time you were glued to your TV to find out about conditions in Haiti, the Time-Square bomb scare or even health care reform? We Americans have a notoriously short attention span and when the media moves on, we do too.
Of course you know that just because the situation doesn’t make front-page headlines anymore doesn’t mean that everything is better. Far from it. Post earthquake-damaged Haiti is still the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and suffers from every possible ill of poverty, a non-existent infrastructure and aggressively corrupt leadership; it’s just that we’re not so actively involved anymore. Out of sight, out of mind is not just a glib saying; it’s an accurate description of our national attention deficit syndrome.
So maybe the cameras moving on to the next subject will be a good thing for tourism. After all, if pictures of gooey petroleum-soaked seabirds aren’t on our TV screens 24/7, visitors might forget about the oil and rebook their vacations. On the other hand, what happens if oil-fouled beaches are the last things consumers see before the cameras leave and there are no inviting images to change that perception?
As I wrote in my last post, the solution is not to tell people the reasons why they shouldn’t not come but instead to build compelling stories that connect with consumers’ emotions and build desire. I’m still waiting to see those campaigns from the affected destinations. Let’s hope they’re coming soon.