February 23, 2024

You’re the Boss: Why Is So Much Marketing the Same?


Last week, we presented a positioning deck to a new client, a semiconductor manufacturer. To arrive at a unique positioning statement that differentiates our clients, we generally conduct research and look at many factors, including what the competition is doing and saying in the marketplace.

Surprisingly, we found that five of this company’s competitors had Web sites that featured that ubiquitous shade of blue that is either spot on or a shade off of reflex blue. (Reflex blue has traditionally been the cheapest ink in a print shop and thus the default for many quick and inexpensive print jobs. Somehow, it has made the leap to the Web). Not only did these sites all have the same color scheme and feel, all of their home pages contained similar wording: Industry leader! Defining innovation and excellence! Our client’s Web site, to its credit, has messaging that is more customer and employee focused. It talks about ensuring the success of others.

This company has gone through a major cultural sea change in the last five years. This change has been enthusiastically embraced internally, but externally … well, the old perceptions of a less stable business still persist. Negative brand attributes, like roaches, can be hard to get rid of. Our agency’s job is to come up with marketing strategies and tactics to reset perceptions and differentiate this company from its competitors.

Differentiating your brand is always crucial. This particular campaign should begin in May, and I’ll tell you more future posts. But I can tell you these companies are not alone. Lots of companies get stuck looking and saying the same thing. Even ad agencies, ours included, struggle with it for our own brands. Why is that? How did we in America, home of the brave, fearless leaders of innovation and new ideas end up sounding the same? Here’s a list of trends I believe have led to a dangerous stifling of creativity.

Social Media on Steroids

Social media have helped spawn democracies. But it’s also made the playing field a little more treacherous — critics of companies now have a bigger voice with thousands of channels to use it across. With Web 2.0, public  eviscerations by a vocal few can make companies extremely tentative, crippling innovation and creativity. When they hear squeaky wheels approaching, they reach for the nearest WD-40 — which often means locking down anything that isn’t generically bland.

Political Correctness

Don’t leave anyone out. Don’t depict anyone in anything but a flattering light. Stay away from portraying people with real texture and character. The Alka Seltzer “That’s a Spicy Meatball” commercial, so well loved and effective in the ’60s, might not be made today for fear of seeming ethnically insensitive. Our agency produced a TV spot for the Blood Tissue Center as part of a campaign. The campaign increased blood donations by double digits, but we were asked to pull this ad from rotation because of a few complaints. It depicts a heavy-set middle-aged woman running with boxes for an elevator.

A Struggling Economy

Fear of losing your job is another killer of creativity. This is especially true of large corporations. When a company’s culture is driven by the numbers, paralysis flourishes.

A friend working in another ad agency told me about an ad he was working on for one of the largest computer manufacturers. It was a full-page print ad for a server, and it was in its 84th round of revisions. Really? I asked why. His take was that middle managers were simply mimicking the folks at the top (who weren’t close enough to the marketing initiative to offer useful feedback). There was no attempt by the middle managers to give guidance or to push back; they didn’t want to rock the boat and risk their job-approval ratings.

We are slowly numbing our ability to differentiate ourselves, not only in how we market our companies but in developing unique products and services that will help stay healthy economically. My wish is that we stop taking ourselves so seriously, connect with our courage again and find our power in being different.

MP Mueller is the founder of Door Number 3, a boutique advertising agency in Austin, Tex. Follow Door Number 3 on Facebook.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8743bc0eb11b1adac520295010cd03fc

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