Beware The “Yes-Man” Who Is Ruining Your Brand

If branding were a course of study, it would most closely resemble psychoanalytic sociology, a fancy term for the scientific study of irrational-seeming group behavior.

You would never know this from reading about “marketing” or “branding.”

The material I’ve seen in this field (keeping in mind that there is a difference between the two, but we’ll put them together for now) generally presumes a “rational actor.” Meaning, that people are generally logical and are conscious of why they do what they do.

The epitome of traditional marketing thinking is the reduction of research to surveys (quantitative) and focus groups (qualitative). Both of these tools, while they have their place, are grossly overused, even though they are ultimately ineffective. If I could TELL you what I wanted from peanut butter I wouldn’t be lured by the name “Skippy.” Skippy sounds like a kid with a baseball cap on. Why would I buy peanut butter from this person? Or how about Jif? That’s not a name I would choose for a food, ever.

You may be objecting to this thesis. You’re thinking about buzzwords like “neuromarketing” and “social media.” You read the article in Fast Company about the thirtysomethings taking courses with a Swedish company to adapt to the new and digital future of marketing, where”creative genius” is out and coding skills are “in.”

Unfortunately, as good as technology will get – and it is going to get better and better – nothing can save us from good old fashioned THINKING. Great marketers don’t lean on survey results that ask “Do you like this?” or “What were the themes that emerged about that?” They know that cognitive distortion and groupthink are such strong counter-factors that marketing research must be taken with a huge grain of salt.

Great marketers have an attitude more like Albert Einstein, who famously said, “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?”

Unfortunately however, it takes courage to insert even a little bit of insight, intuition, innovative thinking and intentional creativity into the marketing process. Because so much money is at stake. And as you rise up the career ladder, so is your reputation as a marketing leader. It’s one thing to be at the bottom and blab about your great ideas. It’s another to be holding the reins of a Pepsi or Mercedes-Benz or Google.

And even if you muster up the courage to be bold, you face a hidden obstacle. That is the plethora of people willing to serve as “yes-men” (or “-women”) to your ideas. These days it’s no longer enough to be great on your own. Especially as you get promoted, you must surround yourself with people who will feel free to speak their minds. Better yet, supplement them with online feedback tools that give you an inkling of when people feel like you’re being an idiot.

To me, branding is an incredibly fascinating science precisely because you’re trying to get a handle on the rational and logical principles that underlie what seems like irrational behavior. It’s a lifelong journey, and I wish you all good luck along the way.

Happy 2011!