We’re still in the hopeful, anything-is-possible first month of the new year, so even though I don’t expect that these injunctions and imperatives will be dutifully followed, I do feel an obligation to get these brand resolutions for 2013 off my chest. And onto yours.
1. Stop bringing up Apple in every meeting.
Let’s vow to make 2013 the year that we stop benchmarking every decision against "What would Jesus…uh…I mean Steve Jobs do." First of all, you can’t compare you or your brand to his, so framing decisions against a sui generis business culture has zero utility and is emotionally frustrating. It’s like saying "What would the Jetsons do?" when you're stuck in traffic.
What’s more, Apple is rapidly becoming just another company. Their last real innovation was the iPhone in 2007—its touch screen and app structure were legitimately revolutionary. Since then, everything, including the iPad, has essentially been conventional line extensions.
2. Don’t be a helicopter brand.
Even the most whirring helicopter parents are nothing compared to an overly aggressive helicopter brand that assaults its customers with emails, tweets, Facebook posts, and Pinterest pins. Make 2013 the year when you stop blanketing and bludgeoning and start understanding the individual "contact metabolisms" of each consumer. Some may enjoy the frequency, while others are probably yearning for a time-out—before they opt out. I’m on dozens of lists for research purposes, and never has a single brand or retailer of any kind ever asked me how often I want to receive emails from them.
3. Get beyond the "Like."
I can’t believe the way that even sophisticated marketers suddenly become the equivalent of popularity-craving high-school seniors in a John Hughes movie, as they obsessively count their Facebook friends and their "Likes."
They should know better. A consumer’s relationship with a brand is as complex, multi-layered, and often as contradictory as those with the people in their lives. Relationships run the crazy gamut from long-term marriages to one-night stands to tumultuous friendships. Marketers need to spend more time thinking about the kinds of connections they have with consumers, and less about the blunt and low-information construct of the "Like."
4. Take a self-administered DNA test.
It’s now only $99 to take a DNA test from 23 and Me and discover the fate that your genes might have in store for you. But as of yet there’s no quick and easy test for a brand’s DNA, which is ironic because you hear people talking about it all the time.
Talk, yes. But do you really understand your brand’s DNA, which means not just the things that make it strong and wonderful but those markers that make it vulnerable and even at risk of an early demise? Spend some time this year putting some real intellectual effort into a genetic probe of your brand—what has it inherited, and how does environment shape those attributes?—and it will live a longer and happier life.
5. Don’t let big data blind you from universal truths. That’s no doubt that the business intelligence that comes from epic crunching of endless numbers can yield unprecedented insights into behavior, patterns of consumption, and unexpected connections. Like more insomniacs in the Midwest wear more purple and are earlier technology adopters than those who are sleepless in Seattle.
But turning marketing into atoms and algorithms can only go so far. Great, enduring brands are based on universal truths, and the best marketers will combine the computational skills that divide, with the psychological insights that conquer.
6. Over-invest in customer service.
Your 800 number is the front line of brand building. Yet I’m continually stunned by how little attention the critical world of customer service receives from senior management. And how much of that attention is spent on how to take costs out, how to get people off the phone faster, how to hide your number on your website so people won’t call.
Customer service needs to be reinvented for a world where consumers are demanding more, where comparisons happen in real time, where loyalty is fleeting and there’s diminishing friction in changing brands. Customer service is where social starts.
My proposal for 2013 is that every CEO and CMO spend an hour a week listening in on some of their customer service calls. The result would be eye-opening—and a revolution in customer service, I assure you.
7. Stop reading business books.
I guarantee that every business blunder of the last decade was made by leaders who spent a lot of time diligently reading business books and business magazines, underlining sentences of brilliant cogency, and pressing them with great urgency on their employees.
These books all follow the same shopworn formula: The world has changed; here are the new rules for the new world; here are some companies that have it right; here are some companies that have it wrong.
Like the diet industry, which is in full marketing swing right now, the business-book-industrial-complex preys on a canny conflation of hope and anxiety that actually get in the way of a smarter and intuitive leader’s ability to synthesize and act.
8. One bonus resolution: Read more Dan Ariely.
Dan Ariely, a friend of mine, doesn't write business books; he writes something more important: books about the way human beings wander through life in a state of irrationality, misjudging what will make them happy, deceiving themselves about the reasons for our decisions, and in general acting unlike the precisely logical creatures we talk about in our PowerPoint presentations.
When you understand the vast implications of behavioral psychology, you’ll get very nervous—in that good, very nervous way—about your strategies. Because the market begins where logic ends.
[Image: Flickr user Wolfgang Lonien]