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August 18, 2005

News & Opinion: Susan Sontag on photographs

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 4:55 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

"It is not altogether wrong to say that there is no such thing as a bad photograph - only less interesting, less relevant, less mysterious ones."
The same is true with brands. And there are many that are boring, irrelevant and/or ordinary, which spells death in a marketplace driven by ever increasing customer expectations.
Now, am I saying that every new brand has to wow the heck out of you? No. Don't believe all of the hype about the death of ordinary and the birth of "purple cows." There are no absolutes in this crazy game. For example, would you call bagged salad greens a purple cow? C'mon. But, it was highly relevant to people and thus has grow to over a $4 billion category. And I predict a hit for Unilever with their new packaging innovation for Wish-Bone designed for the diet-conscious called Wish-Bone Spray.
On the other hand, there's a purple cow called WashingSacks, which are laundry bags infused with detergent that dissolve in the wash, that is probably destined to the dust bin with the thousands of other new products released each month.
For the record I don't believe in the death of ordinary, or anything else for that matter. Take advertising. If I hear someone predict the death of advertising one more time, I'm going to throw up. Advertising is a huge brand enhancer. Sure, it needs to evolve to keep up with today's skeptical and sophisticated audience. But it is certainly not dying.
The key to brand success is to understand the desired feelings of your audience and deliver that feeling with unique and relevant products, services and communications. If you can bring your diet conscious audience those feelings through innovative packaging, then do it! If you can bring your beer drinking audience those feelings through advertising, go that way.
Uniqueness and relevance. You need both! Refrigerator with a see-though glass door . . . unique! But irrelevant . . . and a marketplace loser. High quality, fuel efficient cars from GM and Ford . . . relevant? Sure. Unique? Nope. And so they compete by slashing prices (and margins) and suffer the devastating effects.
I know what you may be thinking: "Refrigerators, cars, salad, detergent. Branding is all about consumer products." It may appear that way, but far from it. It's about why and how people choose what they choose. And whether it's a consumer product or business consultant, people go through the same, feeling-driven process. Perhaps you can share a few examples.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.