You can’t trust integrity and innovation

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If the first sign of a totally bloody useless brand manager is a series of over-complex triangles, keyholes or concentric circles, the second confirmation can be found in the words being used to fill out the aforementioned chart.

One of the greatest scandals in branding is the amazing homogeneity that most brand managers apply to the positioning of their most valuable assets. Despite the ultimate purpose of brand positioning being to maximise differentiation and reflect the unique personality of the product, an army of mediocre and indolent marketers have come up with the same tired set of words again and again.

So here is my list of the three most prevalent and therefore pointless words to use when positioning a brand. Each comes from a decade of meeting and greeting brand managers from across the globe and discovering, with amazing regularity, that most of them have opted to follow all the other marketing lemmings.

Either they are oblivious to the fact that their brand values are almost exactly the same as the other 80,000 badly run British brands or, more likely, they have opted for a safety in numbers approach. Either way, the presence of any of the three usual suspects listed below should tell you straight away that the brand being positioned and the marketer doing the positioning are not up to the task.

Let’s start with innovation. There are only two things wrong with doing what about 40% of British marketers do – claiming that a brand is innovative. First, not a single consumer out there gives a fuck about innovation. When did you last hear a consumer tell you that they bought a toaster because it was innovative? In fact, innovation is usually a sign of an organisation that doesn’t care much about customers or how they use the product, but will bang on for ever about how the product was developed in the first place.

And even if consumers did care about innovation, how could a company possibly prove differentiation when half the brands in the country are claiming it? Triton showers, UK Energy, Phileas Fogg crisps, BP, easyJet, Lindt Swiss chocolate and even The University of Wolverhampton all claim to be innovative. I could fill the rest of the magazine this week, and the next 30 editions, with a long list of brands that claim to be innovative. But by definition none of them can be because they are following the herd and claiming something that everyone else claims.

The dark irony of modern branding is that the only way to be truly innovative is to get as far away from the concept as possible.

Pointless word number two is integrity. What a total load of bollocks. For starters, when is behaving without integrity ever an acceptable business practice? Give me one situation when you have acted without integrity and not regretted it later. Why bother wasting one of your precious positioning words stating the bleeding obvious?

You might as well stipulate breathing, eating or gravity as being essential to the success of your brand.

If you need proof of the entirely pointless nature of integrity as a brand value, just look at the brands that claim it. These include Intercasino, one of the UK’s leading online gambling sites; Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest producers of weapons, missiles and landmines; and Enron, the former energy company that went bust in 2001 after years of unethical business practice.

And last, let’s not forget the word trust, which is perhaps the most over-used concept of them all. Show me a crap brand manager and I bet he or she will have in their marketing toolbox a PowerPoint slide containing the word trust written in capital letters in the middle of a big bullseye.

Imagine being on the Tube and the man sitting across from you smiles and says: “You can trust me.” The one thing you now know about this man is that he clearly cannot be trusted. In fact, the smart thing to do at this point is get off at the next stop and wait for the next train rather than risk what he might do between now and your final destination.

And yet from brand to brand the same well-worn phrase is used repeatedly. “We are a company that you can trust. No, really. You can trust us.”

If you want to spot a bad brand manager and a poorly run brand, keep an eye open for innovation, integrity and trust. They usually pop up in pairs or even as a threesome because bad brand managers are at least consistent in their crapness. I cannot be the only marketer who has noticed the proliferation of brands defining themselves as innovative, with integrity and trusted along with those other clichéd watchwords of modern branding like excellence, pioneering and delivering? Or did I just describe your brand positioning?

Based on the amount of crap out there, I quite probably just did.

Mark Ritson is an associate professor of marketing, an award winning columnist, and a consultant to some of the world’s biggest brands

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