The One Quality That ...


The key to branding isn’t just knowing who you are and what you stand for. It also calls for communicating those very qualities to the outside world.

Take the Singaporean store in the picture. Is there any question about its value proposition?

Closer to home, everyone seems to think there’s a deep lesson in Donald Trump’s popularity. At the risk of stating the obvious, “bombastic” makes for a good TV.

Furthermore, Americans love a good train wreck. We can’t help ourselves. Trump’s latest firing of his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, delivers the latest proof point of this concept.

And one of the few things that will outperform a train wreck is the potential of a train wreck. That’s why the viewing numbers for reality TV shows continue to crush it. We keep watching to find out if he’s going to crash or win.

As E.J. Dionne Jr., political commentator for the Washington Post put it during the presidential campaign, “Trump has succeeded in transforming a battle for the presidency into a reality show starring himself.” Of course, Trump has practice with this reality TV stuff and uttering the words “You’re fired!” — even if his words took the form of Twitter in the case of Tillerson. His appeal as a brand has a anti-politician bent. Do you remember the line in the movie “Network”, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”? Trump taps that emotion.

Where am I going with this?

Perhaps more than any other quality, Trump is real — a quality typically not associated with politicians. There appears to be no difference between who he is as a person, his voice and his personal brand.

Before going further, I try to stay away from the “A” word, “authentic.” I’m not exactly sure why, but the word sounds unauthentic. You never hear someone say, “Keep it authentic.”

Now let’s look at the opposite of real. This is what happens when the CMO and other company executives pay an inordinate amount of money to have someone else figure out what branding attributes will generate the greatest amount of revenue.

Apple didn’t sit around brainstorming brand attributes in the early days. It went all in on “simplicity” because that’s what the company stood for — or at least that’s what Steve Jobs believed. They believed there was a market for “simplicity” in desktop computers and later consumer electronic devices. Likewise, Trump didn’t conduct a slew of focus groups to decide how he should behave in order to appeal to the greatest number of voters.


Test Tubes with Elements 08-15.

Most of today’s brands don’t act with realness because they’re tied to a bunch of attributes conjured up in the lab as opposed to defining who they are, what their aspirations are and how they are going to change at the core to achieve those aspirations. They make this quest for realness more complicated than it needs to be. If the brand attributes truly align with the company’s culture, values, goals, aspirations, etc., then the behavior that comes from the company and its products end up being real.

What a concept.

Southwest Airlines offers a good example of a brand with realness. What you see online, what you hear from their executives and most importantly the experience you have flying on one of their planes is real. They want to put a smile on your face.

I enjoy the Goldman Sachs branding as a spectator sport. The company’s No. 1 mission in life is to make an obscene amount of money for its investors and employees. The select few people and companies that invest in Goldman Sachs might like the company, but for the rest of us, the “sausage making” behind turning the crank to spit out another mill doesn’t make for a pretty picture.  For Goldman Sachs, branding is akin to applying Vaseline on the photographer’s lens to soften the real picture. That’s how you end up with photos on the home page like this:

GoldmanSachs RevitalizingNewOrleans 08-15.

and mission statements like this:

Goldman Sachs commits people, capital and ideas to help our clients, shareholders and the communities we serve to grow.

Nothing about money. Nothing about getting rich.

“Helping clients, shareholders and community grow” comes across as downright regal.

Whether you’re Goldman Sachs, Southwest Airlines or Donald Trump, the one uniting factor that people want from their brands is care. Does the brand care about me as a customer? Does the brand care about me as a voter?

With such a foundation in place, there are countless ways for brands to build on top of this care.

Yet, this is where brands go wrong. In their quest  to appeal to the lowest common denominator, brands gravitate toward vanilla behavior. They don’t want to provoke, and they absolutely don’t want to offend. The upshot — creates a sea of sameness.

In a weird way, Trump’s rudeness differentiates.

For brands, simply showing a personality and a point of view can differentiate.

Of course, this requires trusting the customer so that one difference in opinion won’t send him or her out the door.

For Trump, he’s not worried about his polarizing effect. He’ just being himself.

Just like Goldman Sachs.

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