Directness in Marketing Pt 3 – The Case of the Invisible Brand

Author, marketer Lynn Serafinn discusses how the “distractive” marketing techniques of top advertising campaigns can be worse, not better, for brand identity. Part 3 in this special series on the Grace of Directness.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how cultural conditioning influences our ability to be direct in our communication. In Part 2, we looked at how our relationship with Self determined how directly we were able to portray ourselves to others, with specific reference to the way we write our online bio. Now in Part 3 we look at how our degree of Directness impacts the effectiveness of our brand.

In The 7 Graces of Marketing, I talk about the “Deadly Sin of Distraction”. By “Distraction” I mean all the gimmicky strategies marketers use that have little or nothing to do with the product or service being marketed. I gave several examples in the book, one of which was “Compare the Meerkat” marketing campaign going on here in the UK for the past couple of years. In that campaign, cute little Meerkat puppets named Sergei and Alexander speak in some unidentifiable eastern European accent about a pseudo company called “Compare the Meerkat dot com”, with the intention of planting the name of the real company–an insurance comparison site called “Compare the Market dot com”–into our brains.

As an example of effectiveness in unconscious (or conscious) “brand recognition” (or “recall”), the meerkat campaign is brilliant. But from a “7 Graces” perspective, it fails big time. Now, it might sound crazy for me to give one of the UK’s most “successful” television advertising campaigns failing marks, but it’s understandable when you look at it through the measuring stick of the Grace of Directness.

  • The mantra of Directness is: “Tell it like it is”.
  • However, the mantra of the Deadly Sin of Distraction is: “Tell-it-in-whatever-way-needed-to-make-the-audience-remember-my-name-even-if-I’ve-told-them-nothing-relevant-or-useful.”

The Deadly Sin of Distraction in marketing entails utilising something completely irrelevant solely for the purpose of imprinting a memory of your brand in the minds of your audience. Meerkats have nothing whatsoever to do with insurance or insurance comparison sites. These adverts provide the consumer no useful information upon which to make an informed decision about the actual product being marketed. This is why they fail the “Directness” test.

The Subtle Sin
Distraction is one step away from “Deadly Sin #5: Deception”. Where Deception is out-and-out lies, often by means of the manipulation of words, images and icons, Because Deception is so overt, it’s relatively easy for a consumer to spot.

But while Distraction is akin to Deception, it is far more subtle. Many people do not notice Distractive marketing, and are unaware of its unconscious effect upon them. Its subtlety lies in the fact that it often comes in the guise of humour or sensuality/sex. Another form in which it might appear is in catchy musical jingles. Because we human beings like music, sex and humour, we tend to welcome them into our consciousness without resistance. Of course, marketers know this and that’s precisely why they use them as distractive tools. But once you become aware of Distraction, you will start to spot it everywhere.

Surely, It Can’t Be That Bad
Because Distraction often feels good, you might not immediately comprehend just how insidious it is. I believe Distraction is harmful to society. When we deprive the public of valid and valuable information for the sake of imprinting our brand, we are increasing the amount of ignorance in the world.

That may sound like a very strong statement to make, but think about it: what would happen if everyone on the planet who needed car insurance bought from a company simply because they remembered the talking meerkats? What if that company was actually the worst or least ethical service provider? (I’m not suggesting they are; I actually don’t know anything about them). For every misinformed decision made, ignorance has increased. And by keeping people ignorant, we are denying them the fundamental human right to know, to choose and to make up their own minds. We are disempowering them. I believe this has massive repercussions at a societal and even cosmic level.

Brand Recognition vs. Brand Identity
Distraction is a very attractive vice for marketers to use, primarily because it gives the appearance of working. Remember meerkats and you remember the brand. Remember the brand and you’ll seek it out–IF you can manage to remember what the brand is actually selling. And therein lies one of the flaws of Distraction marketing: while it establishes brand recognition, it does nothing to establish brand identity. Think back to adverts you have seen that drew you in via their entertainment value, but you cannot remember what the product being advertised actually was, not to speak of whether or not it was actually of any value.

Far from being an effective marketing tool, I believe this disparity can lose customers for a business. Eventually, customers will wake up to the fact they’ve been “duped” through clever marketing manipulation. They’ll look at the company with scrutiny and suspicion, rather than trust and confidence. Resentful of having been “played”, they will be unlikely to remain loyal, long-term customers.

The Sizzle vs. the Sausage
Distraction and Directness appear not only within advertising, but at a much more seminal level in our branding. The very first thing I work on with any new client is help clarify their brand. This means getting really CLEAR and SPECIFIC about who the brand serves, how it does it, and why it is important. But most of all, it is also about how this brand is unique. Some people call this the “USP” or “unique selling point”. Many marketers call it “the sizzle”.

Many old-school marketing consultants a re fond of telling their clients to “sell the sizzle, not the sausage”. I agree it’s important to express what is unique about a company in our marketing, but when I see too much sizzle and not enough sausage (even though I am a vegetarian), I always feel suspicious that there isn’t a whole lot of sausage (i.e., substance or value) to talk about. It’s important to distinguish between genuine sizzle and the Deadly Sin of Distraction. Otherwise, we will find ourselves suffering the fate of the invisible brand a scenario of the mysteriously vanished brand, where it makes a lot of noise by has no real IDENTITY.

The true identity of our brand can only come from Directness. Directness can bring our brand alive, rather than make it “bigger than life”. It makes it credible rather than simply memorable. Its power lies not within gimmicks or lofty language, but rather simple, honest facts that express the true substance, value and purpose of our business.

Today, take a few minutes to explore the Grace of Directness in your own branding and marketing by ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How faithfully are you “telling it like it is” in your marketing? Where are you hiding behind or relying upon distractions?
  2. How plainly and simply do you describe your products and services on your website and other marketing materials?
  3. What is the balance between “brand recognition” and “brand identity” in your marketing?
  4. How faithfully do you empower customers with enough information for them to make an informed decision about your brand?
  5. What needs to change? How will you change it? By when?

The ideas in this article are based upon the paradigm in my book The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell. I hope you found it interesting and that it helped clarify “Distraction” and “Directness” in marketing and how they play a part in the establishing the identity of your brand.

Please subscribe to this blog so you can receive the 4th and final part in this series, where we look at how Directness is influenced by our relationship with other people, and especially our “target” audience.

~ Lynn Serafinn

19 February 2013

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of MarketingLYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She was recently named one of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. In her work as a promotional manager she has produced a long list of bestselling mind-body-spirit authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.

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