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Branding Basics

Complex Language Weakening Brands

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 Complex Language Weakening Brands

“Call the law enforcement officers. We’re being robbed.”

Not a likely scenario. What the average person is much more apt to say is: “Call the cops. We’re being robbed.”

Unfortunately, marketing people are not average persons. Marketing people are much more likely to elevate their languages until, in some cases, they lose their meanings.

A few years back a senior marketing person at United Parcel Service asked me what I thought of the company’s trademark.

I like it, I said, but what UPS really needs is a motivating idea or rallying cry, something like: UPS delivers more parcels to more people in more places than any other company in the world.

UPS, he said, is not in the parcel delivery business.

Huh. That came as a big surprise to me. We’re a customer and I always thought that UPS was in the parcel delivery business.

No. UPS is in the logistics business.

He wasn’t joking. At the time UPS was in the process of repainting some 88,000 vehicles with its new theme: Synchronizing the World of Commerce.

A serious impediment to communications is this constant upgrading of the language. No aspect of life is left untouched by the upgrade police. Not only does a term have to be politically correct, it has to be as long and as complicated as possible.

Maintenance men are now physical plant managers.

Janitors are now custodial engineers.

Garbage collectors are now sanitary engineers.

A business strategy is now a business model.

Accounting firms are now professional service firms.

The purchasing department is now the procurement department.

The personnel department is now the human relations department. (At Electronic Data Systems, the HR department has become the Leadership and Change Management department.)

Fireworks are now pyrotechnics.

A jail is now a correctional facility. Anyone setting off the pyrotechnics illegally will be sent to a correctional facility.

It would be amusing if the problem hasn’t become a serious impediment to marketing. Many firms, for example, call themselves financial services companies. What’s a financial services company?

If you want to buy banking services, you go to a bank like Bank of America.

If you want to buy insurance, you go to an insurance company like State Farm.

If you want to buy stocks, bonds or mutual funds, you go to a brokerage firm like Merrill Lynch.

Let’s go to a financial services company to get our finances serviced, is not the way people talk. People talk in terms of specifics, not generalities.

As a matter of fact, it’s easier to go from the specific to the general than vice versa. People know that a drug store sells a lot more things than just drugs. Toiletries, candy, soft drinks, stationery, photo supplies, etc. Should a drug store (pardon me, pharmacy) describe itself as a personal services store? I think not.

Boston Chicken was a huge hit when they first opened its doors. It was the first fast food restaurant chain to focus on rotisserie chicken for the take-home dinner market. But then it added turkey, meatloaf, ham and other items to the menu and changed its name to Boston Market.

Everybody knows what a chicken dinner is, but what’s a market dinner No wonder, the company went bankrupt.

The same principle holds true among marketing companies. You probably know of many famous advertising agencies and many famous PR agencies, but how many famous marketing communications agencies do you know of? Name one.

When in doubt, use the narrowest possible term to describe your category. Let the mind do the upgrading, not your marketing.

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3 Comments

Akash Sharma on October 31st, 2009 said

Yet again awesome stuff,I must say that this should be read by everyone who is related to branding and marketing.
The main point to be noticed is that you have to be remarkable by specifying things and not confuse people with generalizing them as they got to have a particular attribute through which they can relate stuff to your brand and not many things to talk about.
Thanks Al for sharing this classic post.

Rossi on October 31st, 2009 said

How do you explain a successful Boston Market? Is there really a Jack in the Box? I get what you’re saying but it’s not always that simple.

Rich Nadworny on November 02nd, 2009 said

Al, well said (or written). It’s not just terms describing things, it’s marketing writing in general. Most of it is pretty bad. I was reminded of ALL of my old writing teachers after reading this blog post by Stephen Johnson.

He analyzed popular writers using readability stats. Amazingly enough, this tool exists on almost everyone’s computer through Microsoft Word. http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/2007/10/this-may-be-old.html

Write with short words and sentences, to the point and not only will more people understand you, more people will read you. It’s great advice.

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