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July 5, 2011

Building An Iconic Web Brand

Do you have an obligation to be good, and by good, I mean good at your job? Do you have a responsibility not just to be professional and do what you do on time and on budget but also to be creative, thought provoking, and stimulating in the way that you do it?

Myth-Making as a Branding Strategy

The reason I ask the question is I recently read a comment on a business blog posted by a self-proclaimed advertising expert that justified the notion that schlock advertising works. I don’t know about you, but I find the idea disturbing. Sometimes ads work and sometimes they don’t. There are lots of reasons why advertising fails and in many cases it has more to do with implementation rather than conception. And yes we all know that schlock advertising like negative political ad campaigns work in the short-term, but ultimately the tactic leads to audience disillusionment and frustration, which is why we talk to our clients about marketing not advertising.

Marketing is About Building A Legend

Marketing requires you to take the long-view; it’s an approach that requires a company to stake out a position and build a personality that customers can rely on to be consistent and ethical both in offering and in execution. Marketing is about building a legend, an iconic brand that explains who you are, what you do, and why anyone should care. Marketing is about psychological persuasion in order to improve your audience’s businesses or personal lives. Marketing is about transformation, it communicates a brand story that acts as a metaphor that defines your identity, which in turn helps customers define and express themselves.

Beware Junk Research

A reliance on market research that tells you what people said as opposed to what they think is of little or no value. Even research that tells you what people did, doesn’t tell you what they will do when presented with an unknown option. Even opinion polls on soon to be released products are of little use: without some commitment of value those opinions won’t tell you how people will respond when they have to reach into their wallets to make a decision. Sure there’s good research, mostly available to big corporations produced by the social scientists, psychologists and university professors who study human behavior. Most of the rest of it is hindsight justification for whatever happens to be trendy or in-vogue at the time.

Market Leaders Are Proactive

Research that asks people what they want is useless, how can they know if they want something if it hasn’t been put on the market yet. Marketing is about defining your audience’s need not reacting to what your competitor has already established. By definition that kind of approach will leave you as an also-ran, never a market leader.

Market leaders are proactive not reactive. Asking everyone’s opinion on what and how to sell is weak and ineffectual and is not only reactive, it’s downright regressive. Your customers can’t tell you what they don’t know, that’s why they rely on you.

Brand Stories

Brand Stories are how companies use psychological persuasion to transform viewers into loyal customers (brand evangelists) by changing attitudes, preferences, and preconceptions. Brand stories allow the audience to vicariously transform themselves by providing a look at what could be.

Business is obsessed with technological solutions to psychological problems, one very significant reason why so many tech-based advertising tactics fail. Whether it’s Ad Placement Auctions, Search Engine Optimization techniques, or QR codes, if the final destination is a piece of junk, you lose!

Mainstream media promotes techie-solutions mostly because it’s easy and can be presented in a twenty-second sound bite rather than providing the underlying significance of why something really works, a process that is more complicated and takes more time. Take the Old Spice commercials that were hyped based on the technical wizardry of the creators, when the real genius of these ads was the message. Businesses run out and emulate the technique without a clear understanding of why it worked and more often than not miss the target altogether.

What’s Your Big Idea?

So if technique is merely the how, what’s the why, the why anyone should care? Ask yourself, and be honest, what’s your big idea? Steve Jobs famously asked John Sculley, the head of PepsiCo, whether he wanted to sell sugar water for the rest of his life or change the world? What self-respecting senior executive could resist the challenge and opportunity? Are you selling today’s sugar water laced with Facebook, Twitter, and whatever the next big thing is, while allowing your main online presentation channel, your website, to fall behind?

Sure there’s a place for these IPO-based gimmick sites, but are you following the crowd because that’s what the carpetbaggers are promoting this week, or are you a true entrepreneur with a real idea, an honest point-of-view, a fascinating story to tell, and a real product or service that will set-off the endorphins in your audience’s heads when they hear about it?

What’s Your Emotional Value Proposition?

The key to successful marketing is finding your Emotional Value Proposition. It’s how you humanize the outdated notion of a sales-value proposition that no self-respecting marketing expert gives a hoot about. If you look at what Jobs offered Sculley, it breaks down to an opportunity to achieve ‘self-actualization’ the highest rung on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Jobs understood that in order to attract a high-powered, success-oriented executive he had to offer him something big, and from a psychological perspective there is nothing bigger than being all you can be.

In the case of Old Spice the message was more primal, it’s about sex, a basic level ingredient on Maslow’s Hierarchy. The message is clear: buy the product and you attract and satisfy women, what could be more fundamental? Everyone knows sex sells but do you understand why? Sex sells because it’s essential to our survival as a species; we either propagate or we disappear like the Neanderthals. It doesn’t get any more Maslowian than that.

How To Find Your Big Idea

So if you’re selling the most features, lower prices, better service, and best staff in the business, you’re communicating the wrong message. Your audience isn’t stupid; nobody promotes the idea that they have no service and sell cheap crap that doesn’t work. Nobody really cares that you Tweet, Facebook, Google, or text message your day away. What people want to know is what are you going to do to move them up the Maslowian ladder. Every successful brand, product, or company is based on a big idea. What’s yours?

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design and marketing firm that specializes in Web-video Marketing Campaigns and Video Websites. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.