The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
Like many business school professors, I often find the things I teach in the classroom contrast with the things I experience in the boardroom. Last week provided me with the latest in a long line of contradictory experiences.
In the classroom, my MBAs are coming to the end of their Marketing communications class. The group work for this class will culminate in the students pitching competitively against each other and in front of a real client. So, I ended the session by listing three concepts that they should not even consider using in their pitch because they would instantly signal a lack of expertise and strategic naivety.
Throughout the week, I was also working for a client and helping them to select a new advertising agency. Lo and behold, all three of the concepts I had counselled my students against were prominently on display in all the pitches I witnessed.
First up is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Back in 1943, when Abraham Maslow published 'A theory of human motivation' in the Psychological Review, he was probably unaware that the central model of his thesis would one day grace thousands of PowerPoint charts. However, his claim that human beings must first fulfil basic physiological needs, such as water and shelter, before they can be motivated by higher goals such as safety, friendship and eventually truth has proven to be a stalwart of many tired, old presentations.
The fact that there is no evidence to support Maslow's contentions, and that plenty of experimental psychology suggests his theory is wildly wrong, is neither here nor there. He sounds foreign and therefore clever, and big words such as 'hierarchy' imply some form of scientific rigour. If you are walking into a client pitch with nothing more than a first in history from Oxbridge and a dodgy big idea, you'll take what you can.
The next great indicator of an agency's strategic ineptitude is SWOT analysis. This involves you creating a two-by-two grid and then populating it with a list of incredibly obvious client strengths and weaknesses, and another list of equally palpable opportunities and threats. Then you stand back and gaze at this list of incredibly humdrum words, such as 'competitors' and 'new product', and attempt to intuit a bold, new, innovative way of doing business.
They currently teach SWOT analysis as part of the GCSE in business. I have to question its efficacy for 15-year-old schoolchildren, let alone corporate clients. If an agency ever insults you with one of these, I recommend exiting the pitch room via the nearest open window.
The final clue that your potential agency is, perhaps, not your optimum partner for the future is the way in which they discuss brands. It may only be semantics, but there is a very high correlation between the number of different concepts a marketer uses to describe brands and their actual knowledge of the topic.
There are only three key concepts in branding: brand positioning (what you want the brand to be); brand equity (the current value of the brand, measured in whatever manner you see fit), and brand architecture (to describe the relationships that exist between one brand and another).
Any good agency will restrict themselves to variations on these three terms. A bad agency will throw a veritable dictionary at you. You'll get brand personality, brand values, brand essence, brand disintegration, brand casting – and so on and so on.
One of the hardest jobs that a marketer will ever face is working out which agencies and consultants to work with. If you encounter any, or all, of the above, at least you know which to avoid.
30 SECONDS ON … MASLOW
- Maslow presents his theory of needs and motivation as a hierarchy; from self-actualisation (level 5) at the top to self-esteem (level 4), love and relationships (level 3), family and work (level 2), and the body (level 1).
- At level 5, a person looks for self-fulfilment, to become the best they can. Level 4 represents the need for recognition and respect from peers, while level 3 is the need to love and be loved. At level 2, Maslow argues that humans desire social security and safety, and at level 1 they have a simple need to survive.
- Human motivation is segmented in the same manner. Level 5 is the motivation for creativity. A desire to display one's talents and intellect to peers lies at level 4. At level 3, people strive for validation and social acceptance by joining groups or marrying. Level 2 is the motivation to work, provide for oneself and family, and save for the future. And level 1 represents the motivation to survive.
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