Tag Archive for branding

5 Reasons to Move Past Mere Marketing


As our laughter at what Phil Dunphy just said settles down into a chuckle, the screen goes black momentarily and then the commercial begins.

Warm, soothing music. Lovely people lounging on a beige couch in a sunshine-drenched white room laughing in silent slow motion about something.

At this point, we’re not sure if this is a financial institution commercial or a Cialis commercial. We haven’t seen side-by-side tubs yet, so we’re banking on it being a financial institution commercial (see what I did there?). Our suspicions are confirmed when we hear someone telling us, in their very best TV commercial voice, that Such-and-Such Bank has low rates and great service.

Pan back to smiling people. Superimpose logo. Fade to black.

Bing’s online dictionary tells us that marketing is defined as the business activity of presenting products or services in such a way as to make them desirable. I know, I know, some of you prefer more highbrow sources for your definitions. Just for you, I’ll include Merriam-Webster’s definition, which, in (not) shocking news, you’ll find is strikingly similar to Bing’s. The fine folks at Merriam-Webster tell us that marketing is the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.

Essentially, that’s what I’d call mere marketing. It’s marketing that’s divorced from any human or meaningful context. It’s just…marketing stuff.

Financial institutions are notorious for mere marketing, but they by no means have a corner on the market. Those of us in marketing have to ask ourselves: Do we really want our marketing efforts to just blend into the media milieu? Sure, it may be easier to play it safe, but still.

There are at least a few reasons we need to move past mere marketing:

1. Mere marketing tends to be largely focused on products and/or services.

The problem with this is at least two-fold: (1) It presupposes that products and services are the primary reason people do business where they do, and (2) it tends to exclude the very real human and emotional elements of people connecting with an organization’s identity.

2. Mere marketing can dehumanize a brand.

We can know in our heads and believe in our hearts that the reason we’re marketing a particular thing is because it’s potentially helpful to our patrons, but us knowing that doesn’t necessarily mean that our marketing efforts will reflect that people-centric philosophy. More often than not, if we sell the product without putting it within its human context, folks will start to believe that your main goal is, well, selling them something rather than helping them meet a very human need.

Quick aside: Just having humans in a commercial is not synonymous with humanizing a brand.

3. Mere marketing often isolates products and services from an organization’s culture and identity.

For example, in the banking and finance world, most of us say we don’t want to cater to rate shoppers, because we know what an exercise in futility that is. There’s always going to be someone with lower rates. What we need to do is use marketing as a vehicle to communicate more about our organization’s brand, culture, and identity. It’s that sort of thing that can form an actual emotional bond with the folks we serve.

4. Mere marketing actually trains people to shop in ways that are counterproductive.

Think about it. To stay with our example, if you’re incessantly marketing to your rates, won’t that encourage people to start comparing yours to everyone else’s? And how often is yours really that much better than everyone else’s? We’re almost unwittingly teaching people that rates (or checking accounts, or whatever) are the primary thing that makes us or any other financial institution different, and if folks buy into that, you can be assured they’re going to jump ship when they see a better rate elsewhere. I’m not saying we don’t ever market our rates; I’m just saying that can’t be it.

5. Mere marketing is often really, really boring.

Think about the last rate-based commercial you saw.

Hard to remember, isn’t it?

So here’s the thing. Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying marketing is dead. Heck, I’m the exec over marketing here at Mazuma, and we’ve invested a ton of time and energy in our upcoming marketing strategy and rebrand (if I gave you more details, I’d have to kill you). What I am saying is that we need to regularly revisit our marketing paradigm so that our work can evolve into something far more than mere marketing.


A version of this post originally appeared on CUInsight.

Should Happens (Thanks, Josh)

should.008You can blend in, or you can be OK with being different. It’s pretty difficult to have it both ways.

Not that people and organizations won’t try.

It’s understandable too. Lots of folks are dying to tell you and any other organization what you should do.

Within the friendly confines of a team meeting, it’s easy to say you’re going to do this or that bold thing. It’s not nearly as difficult for a group of executives or managers to say they’re going to take a risk and do something different than it is for them to actually do that different thing. And the degree of difficulty is ratcheted up even another notch or twelve when the feedback on that something different isn’t 100% positive.

(Weird how suddenly that’s the standard when folks start to get nervous and want an out. When else is 100% the standard for success? We wouldn’t be able to do anything! But I digress…)

When a person or organization does something different — something outside the norm — you can almost be certain they’re going to catch some sort of flack, and often a lot of flack. Sometimes it’s from well-meaning folks; other times it’ll be from people who are taking the opportunity to take a shot at you. Kind of goes with the territory though, right? You want the feedback either way, or at least you should. Doesn’t mean they’re right; but they’re not necessarily wrong just because they’re acting like donkeys. (And you might also double check to be sure that it’s not you being the aforementioned donkey. We all end up doing that more often than we’d care to admit. At least I do.)

There are oodles of people out there — and maybe inside your organization who are more than willing to precisely describe for you how you or your organization should be acting. Or how they should be marketing. Or how they should be training. Or how they should be operating. Or how they should be dressing. Or how they should (or should not) be using social media. Or how they should be doing any number of things.

Before you know it, they’re shoulding all over you.

You’re knee-deep in should.

They’re so full of should it makes you want to slap them (figuratively, of course).

And you’re torn. I don’t give two shoulds about what they think, you say to yourself.

Or do I? Maybe I should give a should. Or two.

Before long you’re scared shouldless and aren’t quite sure what the heck to do.

You have that Oh Should moment. Or maybe even that Holy Should moment. Are they right or is this culture stuff really just a bunch of bullshould?

Then one of a few things happens:

You start spending all your time trying to convince the whole wide world that you’re right instead of doing your thing, or…

You get super defensive and repeat the above, or…

You start to believe them and begin to pull back, or…

You start to doubt yourself, or…

You get so caught up in complaining about no one else “getting it” that you become more known for that complaining than for the thing you’re doing that people aren’t getting.


But here’s the thing — if you try to bend to every whim of every individual or every group that tells you how you should do or be something, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. You’ll just be getting jerked back and forth like those psychotic rat terriers you see on “walks” with people.

They’ll say you should avoid being so boring, so you’ll lighten up. Then they’ll say you should be more professional, so you’ll tighten back up.

They’ll say you should have more staff, so you’ll beef up. Then they’ll say you should “be more efficient” because your staffing numbers are “above the industry norm” (or something) and you’ll do an efficiency study.

They’ll say that since workplaces are universally becoming more casual, you should too; so you finally bite the bullet and do a jeans day. Then a customer or three will complain about the jeans and so you’ll revoke the jeans day on account of the fact that 0.000001% of your customer base didn’t like the fabric content of your employees’ trousers. But then your employees are going to be irritated that you’ve taken away the jeans privileges they just got. And then you’re in a real pickle because either way you go, someone’s going to be ticked.

So then what do you do? You’re darned if you do. Darned if you don’t. You’re up should creek without a paddle.


You’re OK with being different. You’re OK being you. You’re OK with having a unique organizational identity and culture, and you understand that not every organism in the universe is going to love you.

Sometimes you just shouldn’t give a should.

(Hat tip to Josh Wooley, AVP Ops & Member Experience at Mazuma, for giving me a title for this thing.)

A Leadership Lesson from Livestrong

notbike The dust appears to be settling a bit. Another chapter in the this whole Lance Armstrong fiasco is behind us. I mean, once you go on Oprah, stuff’s official, right? Like most folks, prior to this latest bombshell, I fell somewhere on a spectrum of belief in Lance’s story and skepticism of the same, and that spot moved back and forth a little over time.

Want to know what’s weird though? Over the past few years, I found myself caring less and less about what Lance did or didn’t do. On one level, as one who’s had a little dust-up with cancer, I appreciated–and still appreciate–his battle to survive cancer, regardless of what he did or didn’t do afterward.

On the other hand, that little yellow rubber band that’s sometimes around my wrist wasn’t and isn’t really about Lance Armstrong. To me and millions of others, it doesn’t symbolize the ability to win a bicycle race or seven. It doesn’t symbolize our allegiance to a sport. And it doesn’t symbolize our endorsement of, excitement about, or admiration of Lance Armstrong.

This did get me thinking, though. Why wasn’t I more ticked about all of this? Should I be? As I looked around Facebook, Twitter, the web, and so on, I almost felt bad that I didn’t feel the same indignation that others seemed to. I mean, sure, it’s crappy; but I guess that while Livestrong has played some little part in my life, Lance Armstrong really hasn’t. Consequently, his current situation doesn’t really hit me like a ton of bricks.

Apparently, Livestrong has done something over the years that we should strive to do. They have made their organization about something other than its first famous and now infamous head. It’s always been about the fight against cancer, to be sure; but in its early years it was powered by Armstrong’s celebrity wattage.

livestrong-artwork-templateThey found a way to anchor their identity in something other than a celebrity. If you think back, you began to see less and less of Lance, and more and more grassroots, local stuff popping up all over the place. Livestrong had fostered something that was organic and real; it resonated with people on a human level. It was about them, and people knew it.

It was and is about a community of people with a common bond. Livestrong gave them a voice and a symbol. I think people who really appreciated and appreciate Livestrong did and do so because of its meaning in their fight against cancer, not because of some guy who could ride a bike really fast. In fact, as I think back, I can’t really even remember the last time seeing a Livestrong product made me think of LanceyPants.

If you’ll let me shift gears, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do as leaders? Leaders work hard to provide a compelling context for their teams, help them connect, show them the greater good, and then embrace humility so that they can make sure it’s always about the team. The group. The collective. The greater good. To attribute the accomplishments of a team to just its leader is to do injustice to the team. The group. The collective. The greater good. Sadly, it’s often leaders themselves who are guilty of attributing the team’s success to themselves.

So what do we do? We determine to lead well. Embrace humility. Serve first, then lead. Promote the good of the whole. And remember, it’s not about us.