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Sales Don’t Matter and Other Lies That Will Kill Your Brand

OfficeMax had a plan – and it worked – at least, that’s what they said. And what they said created quite a stir.

In 2006, OfficeMax launched an innovative, if slightly innocuous, application that somewhat caught fire online to the tune of several million visitors over a couple months. Then in 2007, the OfficeMax application called “Elf Yourself” went out of control in terms of viral. Over 26.4 million unique visitors visited the Elf Yourself website in December 2007 alone. That accounted for 123 episodes of people Elfing themselves. Outstanding numbers in that OfficeMax became the fifth most visited website that month.

The OfficeMax VP of Marketing and Advertising, Bob Thacker, suggested in an interview with Advertising Age that in no uncertain terms the OfficeMax innovation was a considerable success when he said that, “We were looking to build the brand, warm up our image. We weren’t looking for sales.”

Of course, there remained the elephant in the room: Now what?

In his book The End of Marketing as We Know It, former Coke Marketing head Sergio Zyman counters that the ultimate goal of marketing is just that – selling. No apologies.

Where is the truth – or at least the middle ground?

Perhaps it can be found by looking at your specific brand development. What is your expected outcome? Do you seek brand awareness for now? Or do you seek revenue? Both? By investigating your specific brand needs, you’ll get closer to understanding if you lay closer to the OfficeMax version of things, or desire to profit more from the dollars side.

This type of “two sides to every story” construct unfortunately is pervasive in marketing. It might be a product of the spin inherent in the field. But more likely, it stems from the challenges of not knowing what to believe is the best avenue towards brand success.

What are the potential pitfalls you might find in brand building – either for awareness or profit that you’ll run into?

Change is Good

First, the alarming rate with which organizations change from logo to logo, message to message, and strategy to strategy, can play a tragic role in failure. The fallacy is that agility is necessary for a company to survive. But critical is to know that agility in moderation is even better. Don’t change for the sake of change. Instead, establish a consistent application for your brand. This will keep doubters at bay and consumers familiar with whom and what you are.

Find the Next Big Idea

Thinking big is the new, well… big idea. Everyone seeks the big hit, the one thing that will get them over the edge into success. The tipping point. Here’s the rule to live by. There are rarely black swans in the pond. Mostly swans are white.

In the book The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a black swan is described as “highly improbable even with three characteristics: it is unpredictable; it carried a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random.”

That is, to simply say, everyone seeks a hit, but even though we intellectualize it as a probable expectation, more than likely you’ll never come across the next big thing. So start channeling your energies into more worthwhile goals…practical, principled ideas will generate revenue; impractical reaches for the stars may simply lead you on a – you guessed it – wild goose chase.

I Know More Than My Consumer

You might as well come to terms now. Chances are you don’t know more than your consumer. And, even if you did, they won’t care. You can however, use this to your advantage. By establishing a strong customer service program (that is, developing strong feedback tools, blogs and ways for the consumer to connect with you, including rapid response to problems and issues), you shift the balance in your favor. Get to know who your purchaser is, then share back to them.

To find some modicum of success in any field requires intuition, discernment and the courage to just do stuff sometimes. Fortunately though, there are some good rules to live by. You just have to find and learn them. Now, stop elfing yourself, don’t believe or follow “brand killing” lies, and build a better brand today.

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