The Big Picture of Business – The Realities of Branding… Slogans that Mislead

It is both comical and sad to analyze certain promotional hype that one hears. Some companies claim that purchasing their product is the ‘be all, end all’ panacea for life’s dilemmas. If only you will buy their version of ‘The Answer,’ then you can surely fast-forward your way to instant riches, success and an easy life.

This is not written to take swipes at responsible branding, marketing and advertising. More than 80 percent of what one sees and hears is clever, informative, research-based, sensibly executed and intended to orient target audiences toward marketplaces. Advertising fulfills many essential niche needs. Branding is a sub-set of marketing, which is a sub-sub-set of corporate strategy. It needs to reflect and support strategy, not to deter from it.

This is written to address the bigger issue that some companies believe the hype that they are issuing. One most often hears inflated misrepresentations, false perceptions and over-statements via such contexts as:

  • Corporate image spots that appear on TV news shows.
  • Business-to-business publication advertising.
  • Self-promotional brochures.
  • Direct mailings to niche audiences.
  • Catalogs.
  • Cause-related marketing materials.

Some companies are downright parsimonious about themselves. Some either skillfully lie to get what they think they want, or may really believe themselves to be what they hype to publics who don’t know any better.

Many consumers are gullible, ‘name’ crazy and susceptible to grandiose claims. They take what is said at face value because they have not or don’t care to develop abilities to discern what is hyped by others. They believe distortions faster than they believe facts, logic and reason.

This negatively impacts our society, which continually seeks button-pushing answers for life’s complex problems without paying enough dues toward a truly successful life. Consumers naively believe misrepresentations, to the exclusion of organizations which are more conservative, yet substantive, in their informational offerings.

Many of the hucksterisms represent ‘copywriting’ by people who don’t know anything about corporate vision. Their words overstate, get into the media and are accepted by audiences as fact. By default, companies have the appearance of credibility based upon misrepresentations.

Companies put too much of their public persona in the hands of marketers and should examine more closely the distorted messages and partial images which they put into the cyberspace. Our culture hears and believes the hype, without looking beyond the obvious. People come to expect easy answers for questions they haven’t yet taken the time to formulate.

Here are some examples of the misleading and misrepresenting things one sees and hears in the Information Age:

‘Achieve Perfection.’
What they’re really selling: Computer software.
My analysis: There is no such thing in life as perfection, as anyone who had led a meaningful life has learned. Continuous Quality Improvement is a higher level of thinking. Computer software is merely one tool out of many. It cannot single-handedly create quality.

‘Solutions for a Small Planet.’
What they’re really selling: Internet access.
My analysis: It takes more than a keyboard to effect solutions. You need global thinkers, planning, visioning, human interaction, the ability to reason…and much more.

‘Problem Solvers.’
What they’re really selling: Computer technicians.
My analysis: Yes they are, for less than one tenth of one percent of business issues.

‘Helping You Achieve Your Future.’
What they’re really selling: Photocopying equipment.
My analysis: You achieve your own future, with the help of skilled advisors. Once you strategize your life’s plan, it is a good idea to share photocopies of it with others.

‘A Better Life for the People of ____.’
What they’re really selling: Electric power plants.
My analysis: Yes, but how community-responsive are the companies which sell equipment to public utilities. What is their commitment toward literacy, social services, health care, the environment, multicultural diversity and other key issues that really create a better life?

‘Work Smarter, Not Harder.’
What they’re really selling: Computer software.
My analysis: Productivity software does no good unless one commits to change, alters behavioral traits and commits to time management. Then, we move on toward the bigger issues which software is not capable of addressing: what you do with your time, what you contribute and how you grow-succeed.

‘Tap the potential of companies focused on the future.’
What they’re really selling: Stock investments.
My analysis: The stock market looks primarily at profits…one small part (1%) of the business picture. It must also focus upon people, products, processes, procedures and potential.

‘How the Fortune 1000 Made Their Fortune.’
What they’re really selling: Paging equipment.
My analysis: Pagers were not invented when they made their fortunes. Communications is fundamental to maintaining, but technology is only as good as the people using it. The bigger question is: how accessible are the executives, and how is company vision articulated and shared? That’s the kind of communications that really grows companies.

‘Products for Healthy Living.’
What they’re really selling: Skin cream.
My analysis: An overstatement. Health care professionals rank other things higher on the list of priorities.

‘Your Survival Could Depend On It.’
What they’re really selling: Home fire safety gear.
My analysis: Agreed, though I would include continuing education, self-fulfillment and the ability to plan one’s future life to the equation.

‘Change Your Hairstyle as Easily as You Change Your Mind.’
What they’re really selling: Ladies’ hairpieces.
My analysis: Many people (women and men) have trouble changing both…which still reflect the mindsets and self-images of their college days.

‘Speak the Language of Business Success.’
What they’re really selling: Foreign language lessons.
My analysis: English is the international business language, and most people do not use it to best advantage. Workplace illiteracy is much more rampant than people even understand. Many managers have poor people skills, as well as poor verbal-written communications skills. Business writing and public speaking classes should be mandatory. The ability to communicate must be taught to all who wish to attain business success.

‘Develop the Drive to Accomplish Anything.’
What they’re really selling: Motivational tapes.
My analysis: Agreed, in philosophy. They require human development, mentoring, knowledge enhancement and much more to be successful. Tapes alone are not enough. They may start or augment a path of self-growth and success. Tapes cannot take the place of reading.

‘Insightful Advice for a Complex World.’
What they’re really selling: Banking.
My analysis: Financial planning does not constitute global thought on life. It’s 1% of the total picture. Banks buy money wholesale and sell it to borrowers at retail rates. Banks are now trying to compete with financial planners and investment banking houses.

‘Getting you back to the way things once were.’
What they’re really selling: Home owners’ insurance.
My analysis: There is nothing more permanent and positive than change (which is 90% beneficial). Too many people spend much of their lives clinging to the past, fighting change and criticizing those who progress. While insurance is important, nothing should promise a return to the past. That plays into the hands of has-beens.

‘Enhancing Your Life at Home.’
What they’re really selling: Outdoor signage.
My analysis: To facilitate enhancement, focus upon quality time with the family, hobbies, reading, exercise, gardening and entertaining guests.

‘The Spirit of Excellence.’
What they’re really selling: Residential real estate.
My analysis: Price and location are the deciding factors in real estate. Knowledge of the agents is the next factor. While all companies should achieve excellence in what they do, no single organization embodies it all.

‘Your opportunity of a lifetime is here. You owe it to yourself and your family to be successful.’
What they’re really selling: Multi-level marketing, home-based business.
My analysis: The language of infomercials often preys upon low-income and low-esteem people. It alleges that their scheme is the only true way to riches…which is a quick path toward a successful family life. Obviously, they are mixing messages to sell their programs. Life is a series of progressions, choices, dues-paying and self-earned successes. There is no substitution for diligence and hard work.

‘Has All the Trappings of a Box Office Sensation.’
What they’re really selling: Trucks.
My analysis: That means that it’s based upon flash, sizzle and hucksterism. This week’s box office sensation will be forgotten soon enough. There’s always another waiting to take its place. Why do TV newscasts devote so much valuable airtime to show box office grosses for movies? That’s not news. Further, it reinforces the erroneous message that sales rankings are the primary measure of a company or product. Anybody who hangs their hat upon changeable, temporary rankings is headed for a fall. The public also loves to see celebrities, products, trends and cultural icons fall just as quickly as they rise. It’s a sick phenomena. Nothing – not even reputable films – should be judged only by fickle box office ratings.

‘Accelerate Your Business.’
What they’re really selling: Computer software.
My analysis: Not every company grows at the same rate. Database software does not make a company grow. It is a tool of people who put thought, planning, products and processes into perspective. Computer ‘consultants’ are not business strategists. Their product is one out of hundreds of business tools and must, therefore, be kept into proper perspective.

‘Improving Health Care in America.’
What they’re really selling: Data processing systems.
My analysis: Managing data and managing doctors (which is tough to do) are not the same thing. Non-core vendors do not and cannot improve the quality of a client’s core business. Products and services assist the bureaucracy to do its job more efficiently but cannot claim credit for Big Picture success of a client’s entire industry. In the case of health care, it’s more of a societal phenomenon that goes beyond the controls of its industry, providers and vendors.

‘Brewing solutions for a better environment.’
What they’re really selling: Packaged beverages.
My analysis: It is misleading to list the charities one has supported in one’s history, especially to prove a deceiving point. When you’re in the business of manufacturing and marketing packaged beverages, it is misleading to suggest that you’re in the business of protecting the environment. Cause related marketing is wonderful, but a company that exploits one cause may paint a partial (and thus false) picture of itself.

‘The Internet is fast becoming the greatest business revolution ever.’
What they’re really selling: Computer software.
My analysis: The Internet is a vehicle for sales and marketing. History tells us that revolutions are never fast. For terms like ‘greatest,’ try practical experience, learning, planning and human communication with colleagues…qualities which a sales vehicle cannot provide.

‘The Bumpy Road to Success Made Smooth.’
What they’re really selling: Small business banking services.
My analysis: Banking, like computer hardware and software, is a tool of the trade…not a driving force. Success is a long process, based upon how well one takes the turns. There are no shortcuts to true success.

Red Flag Expressions: When You Hear, Beware of False Claims!

Family Tradition
Fastest Growing
In One Easy Lesson
#1 in Sales
World Class
Wealth and Riches
The Best
For All Your Needs

‘Our Mission.’
What they’re really selling: Retail merchandise.
My analysis: Beware of that phrase in advertising. It’s a sales ploy. Retailers are motivated by keeping the cash registers ringing. It’s unlikely that sales people know what a Mission Statement and the Strategic Planning process are. To confuse sales and Big Picture messages is a travesty.

‘Family Tradition.’
What they’re really selling: Usually retailers, restaurants, service companies.
My analysis: If the founder is still active in the business and is accessible to customers, then the reputation is upheld. Dysfunctional family-run businesses reflect dysfunctional families. Hiring blood relatives, in-laws and old friends is not always good business. A few pull their share, and others coast on the certainty of nepotism. Research shows the odds are against family businesses going past a second generation, for these and other reasons. Tradition is a red flag expression because it implies that change has not occurred. Nobody does things exactly as they did in the early days. To say they do is deceptive to customers, employees and the good family name. Tradition and maintaining the status quo are two different concepts. Real tradition is predicated upon change management and steady evolution of the business.

7 Defeating Signs for Growth Companies

When a company says they are the ‘Fastest Growing,’ beware! These circumstances are likely in place, each of which will defeat their claims:

  1. Systems are not in place to handle rapid growth…perhaps never were.
  2. Their only interest is in booking more new business, rather than taking care of what they’ve already got.
  3. Management is relying upon financial people as the primary source of advice, while ignoring the rest of the picture (90%).
  4. Team empowerment suffers. Morale is low or uneven. Commitment from workers drops because no corporate culture was created or sustained.
  5. Customer service suffers during fast-growth periods. They have to back-pedal and recover customer confidence by doing surveys. Even with results of deteriorating customer service, growth-track companies pay lip service to really fixing their own problems.
  6. People do not have the same Vision as the company founder…who has likely not taken enough time to fully develop a Vision and obtain buy-in from others.
  7. Company founder remains arrogant and complacent, losing touch with marketplace realities and changing conditions.

‘Caring for the Community.’
What they’re really selling: Perceived corporate self-image.
My analysis: Television stations are notorious about producing and airing self-serving promotional campaigns. They ‘care’ about the community. The bulk of their ‘caring’ is to promote local newscasts, which are their most lucrative sources of advertising revenue.

They say they are facilitating community dialog. Most available public service time, instead of going to non-profit organizations, is sold to corporations. Cause-related marketing packages have the ‘feel-good’ look of public service but are really disguised ad campaigns to promote corporate agendas and produce more revenues for the TV stations.

Newspapers brag about all they donate toward educating the community. What they’re really ‘donating’ is unsold ad space. They make up by increasing rates of advertisers…offering cause-related marketing packages as incentives.

When one media insists upon having exclusive name rights to a special event, that’s the kiss of death. For years, I’ve recommended to charities that they not put all their eggs in one basket. If one media is the ‘name sponsor,’ then that will negate coverage by other media. Charities rationalize that exclusivity gets them more intensive coverage than would a ‘shotgun publicity’ approach…which is not true and has never been proven so.

Name media are also notorious about failing to give all the exposure that they promised, citing advertising commitments as the overriding factor. This is truthful because media companies are firstly in the business of running advertising. Running programming and local news coverage is just the ‘wrap-around’ to generate audiences for advertisers. At the bottom of the totem pole sits coverage of community activities…unless they can sell advertising around it.

‘In One Easy Lesson.’
What they’re really selling: A quick fix, or a quick way to get company buy-in.
My analysis: Meaningful strategy, improvement and change are not achieved via quick fixes. They also need not be long drawn-out processes. Reasonable timelines may be achieved. Company growth or success cannot be accomplished In One Easy Lesson because human beings require more than once to learn meaningful lessons…plus the time and attention necessary to put lessons learned to good use.

What they’re really selling: Their way of producing and selling.
My analysis: Human behavior training tells us that judgmental qualifiers like ‘good, bad, mean, evil and better’ are self-defeating. To be better is to slam someone else.

‘#1 in Sales.’
What they’re really selling: You should buy from them, since so many others do.
My analysis: #1 is for now. Sales rankings constantly change. To buy only because a company hypes that they are #1 is not a valid reason. Buy what you want…from a company that you respect. Also, if they’re #1, you’re just another sales statistic and customer service will suffer commensurately to the numbers behind whom you must stand in line.

‘World Class.’
What they’re really selling: If you want to be associated with a winner, buy from them.
My analysis: The organization that claims ‘world class’ is trying too hard to be put in the league of others. ‘World class’ is not self-bestowed…it is earned via a long track record.

‘Wealth and Riches.’
What they’re really selling: Their product is all that you need.
My analysis: There are no shortcuts to wealth and riches. Nobody will give away their secrets. Pyramid marketing schemes take advantage of failed hopes and ungrounded wishes. As P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

‘The Best.’
What they’re really selling: Temporary rankings.
My analysis: There are too many ups and downs in business, without proclaiming yourself in a position for others to dispute or attack. Being successful in the long-run is much more admirable than being temporarily ‘the best.’

‘For All Your Needs.’
What they’re really selling: Wanna-be syndrome.
My analysis: No product or service fulfills all of a customer’s needs. To suggest otherwise is narrow-minded. The more self-assured business makes long lists of what it doesn’t do. It knows and relishes its niche, without trying to be all things to all people.

Now, to Salute Good Examples of Slogans and, thus, Company Posturing

As many misleading statements and campaigns there are, I would like to cite some of the ones that I respect. These prove that marketing can be compelling, thought provoking and intriguing at the same time. Here are some that I salute:

Better Grades Are Just the Beginning. Sylvan Learning Centers. This illustrates that continuous quality improvement is a process, not a quick fix. I heartily agree that learning is the key to everything else in life and that it must be planned and nurtured.

The Difference is Planning. Merrill Lynch. Agreed, although financial planning (a subset of Branch 3 on The Business Tree) constitutes less than 1% of full-scope organizational planning. If every consultant and vendor would advocate a cohesive approach to planning, directed toward a Big Picture, then organizations would run better and individuals would lead quality lives.

It’s All in How You Look At It. The New York Times. Bravo. Very insightful. Perspective is everything…continually changing, reflective and powerful for our future.

Look and You See the World Around You. Investor Owned Light and Power Companies. If one ages gracefully, they become more perceptive and enjoy life better. Otherwise, they stagnate. The choice is up to the individual (and any organization, as well).

Silence is Acceptance. Public service campaign to facilitate discussions about drug abuse. Many families abdicate responsibilities for parenting to schools, the community or to anybody but themselves. Organizations reflect their own lack of training about people skills and management issues. They either cannot or won’t try to teach what they were not taught. Managers tell employees what not to do and criticize them for being wrong. Yet, it’s their fault because ground rules were not adequately communicated, nor has mentorship occurred. Doing nothing causes much more organizational damage than making mistakes while operating in good faith. Silence (followed by harsh criticism) is the worst way to communicate.

We Make Money the Old Fashioned Way. We Earn It. Smith Barney. Business is a process, not a sure thing. Companies which are prepared to ‘go the distance’ will reap greater rewards, including financial.

Touches the Lives of Just About Everybody. General Electric. If more companies thought of the implications of what they do upon multiple constituencies, they would do a better job. Don’t think in the ‘micro.’ Think more ‘macro’ about who decisions and policies affect.

Life Is About Learning. Depends undergarments. Absolutely. Maturity is a process. Too many young people don’t know that, or care. Too many ‘mature’ people have ceased to continue learning. The really wise ones learn each year… in a continuum of experiences.

The mantle of greatness cannot be earned in a single summer or in a decade. Greatness is earned over an entire career. Rolex Watches. Yes, indeed. Too many people want the acclaim of their seniors but are not willing to do the things that their seniors did to get there. Wanna-be’s generally will not go the distance because they don’t take the time to amass skills for success. Those who achieve long-term do so because of a plan to succeed, commitment to their profession, people skills, community stewardship, participation in mentorship, ongoing professional development, self-fulfillment and a positive attitude.

Characteristics of Good Slogans-Campaigns and, thus, Company Philosophy

Focus upon the customer.
Honor the employees.
Show life as a process, not a quick fix.
Portray their company as a contributor, not a savior.
Clearly defines their niche.
Say things that inspire you to think.
Compatible with the company’s other communications.
Remain consistent with their products, services and track record.

About the Author

Hank Moore has advised 5,000+ client organizations worldwide (including 100 of the Fortune 500, public sector agencies, small businesses and non-profit organizations). He has advised two U.S. Presidents and spoke at five Economic Summits. He guides companies through growth strategies, visioning, strategic planning, executive leadership development, Futurism and Big Picture issues which profoundly affect the business climate. He conducts company evaluations, creates the big ideas and anchors the enterprise to its next tier. The Business Tree™ is his trademarked approach to growing, strengthening and evolving business, while mastering change. To read Hank’s complete biography, click here.

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