Branding is Not a SitCom Happy Days Process
When John Donne and other Metaphysical poets are summarized, it is for their willingness to ‘yoke together by violence two unlikely objects.’ My blog today is more of a violent troika yoking. How else to understand the emerging brand world?
· The first unlikely object is a 1995 quote from Steve Jobs, referenced in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times: “The companies forget what it means to make great products. The product sensibility and the product genius that brought them to that monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product versus a bad product. They have no conception of the craftsmanship that’s required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product. And they really have no feeling in their hearts usually about wanting to really help the customers.”
· The second unlikely object: The risk/reward ratio recalibration wrought by social media, as exemplified by United (and other) Airlines. They are trapped by the that rot Jobs spoke to more than 20 years ago, attempting to manage a massive business by relying on draconian policies and procedures manuals designed to ensure, hmmm, employee compliance and financial calculus trump empathy. Whoops.
· The third: A trip to Brooklyn to see the production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, staring Diane Wiest. Winnie is trapped in Act I in a huge mound of earth, under a brutally, eternally sunny sky, aka social media. She’s as alone as any modern CEO, with just a howl or newspaper headline emanating from her mostly hidden husband Willy to help her along. She perseveres in the daily duties she’s fashioned for herself: brushing her teeth, applying lipstick, unpacking her bag and repacking it, considering her revolver, forgetting perhaps to brush her hair, but always putting on her hat and furiously recalling one-time onlookers who suggested somebody should help her out. By Act II, she’s covered up to her head. Totally immobilized.
Winnie in Happy Days presents a terrifying, yet metaphorically apt vision of what Jobs described. In marketing terms, she expresses the plight of brands trapped in their own dogma and hoping for the best, augmented by the occasional happy memory of past greatness. Nobody starts out hoping to become the ‘rot.’ But, as Winnie puts describes her own dichotomy of self: “To be always what I am - and so changed from what I was.”
Let’s all agree: Our job is not to put on our hat each day. Our job is to hear the whispers of our brands and the people they are designed to help. Then, find where those voices align and lead us.