Whispering your brand

Just yesterday I was discussing the various ways to build a brand.  With an attorney. 

He has a client who, as a plaintiff, is not being taken seriously by the arrogant, macho defendants.

The story has an all-too-common turn.  My friend’s client did a
large part of the thinking about how to revitalize the out-of-date
product of a proposed startup, built the business model with the CEO and crafted a business
plan that attracted the attention of some whopper VCs.  Now, of course,
the defendants are offering the client only half of the fee owed and deny that they are using intellectual property for which they haven’t paid.

Besides the common issues of not understanding how to value positioning expertise and refusing to believe that anyone other than themselves could rescue their five-year-old business idea and monetize it, I detected another problem in this story.

I asked the attorney if the defendants knew anything about the client’s reputation or the impact of the client’s work.  Apparently, the client has an underground reputation for skillful competitive analysis and positioning, distinguished by a facility with messages — but prefers a quiet sort of self-marketing.

I suggested to the attorney that his client’s case illustrates the downside of leading a productive professional life in the age of Egos that Suck the Oxygen Out of the Room.  Looks to me as if these defendants would have valued my friend’s client far more if a hyped-up image were part of the picture.  They probably buy the marketing style of the past ten years, as exemplified by the obsession with Hollywood celebrities, celebrity CEOs and in this case, the self-proclaimed uber-marketers of our little silicon centered valley. 

People like that can only act respectful when they’re intimidated, and my friend’s client prefers avoiding bullies and bullying.  Doesn’t waste of lot of time greasing big shots at big ticket schmooze
conferences.  Not a member of the incestuous little circles that
populate the industry.  Not on the radar screen of the World’s Most
Powerful Tech Law Firm.  [Will probably change after this case.]

In spite of the fact that this is one ugly story, the many high-integrity, down-to-earth players in high tech outnumber the creeps. 

And there’s more good news.

It appears that the valuation of branding talent and skill — and challenging adversaries — based on loud, in-your-face promotion of self or enterprise is going to be a whole lot less effective in the coming era.  According to Faith Popcorn, the fact that the world is going to feel unsettled in 2008 will shift several trends — one of them being the "shouting" around brands and marketing.

Popcorn forecasts a new trend, "branding in whispers." 

  • Instead of logos on every conceivable piece of anything, consumers will expect luxury brands to return to their roots of letting quality of design and construction speak for brands.  [I think this will manifest itself in other ways — companies will feel less of a need to pay exorbitant exec salaries or name-drop chic-chic suppliers.  Reputations will be built on performance again.]
  • Instead of out-promoting their competitors to get buyers’ attention, savvy players will see that their buyers want to be in on the discovery of their brands.  Products that introduce new functionality will attract the attention of these buyers.
  • Instead of soothing their world weariness by trying to keep up with the Joneses, people will start to recognize the medicinal powers of simplicity.  And they’ll look to other people to benchmark new sources of personal contentment.

In other words, as it has so many times over the centuries, human nature will rebel against its tendency to overdo by turning to quality, not quantity; to listening and watching, not competing for attention; to community, not competitiveness.

Boy, I hope Ms Popcorn is right.  [She usually is, because she studies what people actually do.]  Maybe we’ll enjoy a decade or so of having people in brand and marketing positions who understand the nature of authentic connecting in the marketplace.

In the meantime, I hope my friend teaches those carpetbaggers a thing or two.


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