Having two young daughters means I spend a fair bit of quality time watching Disney movies. Princesses, dragons, handsome princes riding in on white horses, wicked stepmothers. You know the drill.

As a marketing strategist I also spend a fair amount of time in brand positioning workshops. Listening to clients and colleagues talk with equal passion about paradigm changing, out of the box thinking and esoteric conversations about evolution, Darwin and some number dot 0.

Sometimes I’m not sure which scenario is more fantasy. The one I spend with my daughters or the one spent debating paradigm shifting and Dunbar’s number.

Here’s a simplistic rationale for my confusion. It stems from a fundamental of positioning; “Is this offering credible for your brand?”

Yet, often brand managers rail against me innocently asking this question. As close as they are to the coal-face they’ve lost objectivity. Or, increasingly, the desperation to make quarterly numbers dictates some desperate Hail Mary act.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying brands can’t evolve, improve, get better. Heaven knows social media is making it happen. What I’m saying is you need to be objective. A colleague who flies so frequently she’d be better off getting her Pilots license recently lost her baggage on a United flight. 3 days later she’d not even received word from the Customer Care group.  Makes a bit of a mockery of their customer-centric global citizenship ethos. Canadian readers will not be surprised by this little Telco story and the classic caveat emptor attitude adopted by Rogers. Again it makes it harder for me to believe Rogers communications telling me how special I am to them.

Why is this so critical for marketers?

You mean besides our credibility?

Our ability to motivate behaviour is toast if we have no credibility. If we’re writing cheques that other parts of the organization have to cash, let’s ensure they’re willing to honour that commitment. As fragile as the trust between marketer and consumer, the trust between sales/legal/operations and marketing is just as tenuous. We want a seat at the big table yet we create Pollyanna advertising that paints an inaccurate sense of what our brand really does. Avis is celebrated for their “We Try Harder” positioning because it had more than a grain of truth in it folks.

So what solution am I offering?

Next meeting you’re in and you hear “We want to be the next Amazon, eBay, LuluLemon, Virgin” or the ever popular “We want to be the next Apple”, politely raise your hand and call Bullshit. As glorious as the Steve Jobs biography is, it has unfortunately created a bunch of robotic Steve Jobs-wannabes who believe their category or service can magically transform if they merely “lead like Steve”. This wonderful article from Strategy&Business highlights that lunacy and should be distributed as pre-reading to any management off-site from now on.

Marketers, it might be hard to acknowledge that your brand isn’t market leader, rolling off the tongue of consumers or has retailers salivating to stock it. Deal with it. That situation aint gonna change if you don’t start by being credible. Then you can ride in on your big white horse and save the day.

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