Be your brand


“Do you know what your problem is?” I was at lunch with my former business partner, Johan. “You’re a marketer who doesn’t believe in marketing.”

As usual with Johan, it took me a moment to figure out what he was saying, and then another to realize he was right. Like a lot of Gen X folks, I loved TV advertising as a child. Sometimes more than the shows. I had my favorite ads and shouted, “Where’s the beef?” with adolescent abandon. But I never bought it. I never thought it was real.

We love creative ads and beautiful brands. We admire a well-designed website or logo. But we know it’s just marketing. 

We know it's not real.

Actually I did, for a minute, believe the hype. There was this parachute board game I saw on TV that I was sure was the Golden Ticket to Happiness. I had never wanted anything for Christmas so badly before and actually gotten it. I opened the box immediately, began playing it, and … and … eh. It was OK. The ad was better.

And the research shows that most post-boomers (i.e. Gen X and Gen Y) share my distrust of marketing. We love creative ads and beautiful brands. We admire a well-designed website or logo. But we know it’s just marketing. We know it’s not real.

And I’ve taught my son the same: It’s just the ad. It’s not real. Read the reviews. Think for yourself. What does common sense tell you?

This isn’t news. Today marketing isn’t fooling anybody. You can’t sell a crappy product, no matter how good the advertising or branding is, and get away with it. Thanks to the wonderful twin powers of word-of-mouth and the Internet, truth wins out every time.

What's a marketer to do?

Tell the truth. Be who you say you are.

So what’s a marketer to do? Well, you could tell the truth. You could work with your CEO and your HR department to help shape corporate culture. You can be honest with your audiences, internal and external, and spend your time communicating instead of convincing. At Rupert, we call this having a “whole brand,” but you can call it whatever you want. Essentially, it’s pretty simple:

Be who you say you are.

There are plenty of whole brands out there. You see them a lot in small businesses where hiring likeminded folks isn’t a corporate initiative so much as the founder’s intuition. Like a trustworthy mechanic or your local mom-and-pop grocer.

Whole Brands work better because they are real.

But big companies can do it too. It just takes more work plus conscious structure and effort. I’ve seen it work. (Full disclosure: I’ve also seen it fail.) Once we were rebranding a company that was trying to change how they built their products. It was a huge undertaking and was much more than marketing. And there was angst. And turmoil. And turnover. But it worked. Today, that company not only looks like a more modern, agile business—it is one. And the products are better, smarter and more thoughtful. It worked because the leadership team didn’t expect marketing to magic wand away the problem. They saw marketing and brand as an outward manifestation of an inward change.

In the end, whole brands simply work better because they are real. They permeate every level of the business, not just the marketing, and can create meaningful jobs for employees and make meaningful connections with consumers, even jaded ones like me.