It Is What It Is And It Does What It Does

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Social Media (or any other form of Marketing and Communications) won’t save a bad product, brand or service.

This may seem like an obvious statement out of the gates, but it is something that many brand managers don’t really wrap their heads around. If you love the TV show Mad Men (and who, in their right mind, doesn’t?) the subtext of the early days of advertising (and something that kept happening until very recently) was the ability for a brand to engage with a Madison Avenue type of advertising agency to help them turn a coal into a diamond. The germ of mass media advertising was about creating an allure or desire for products and over-selling them. Making them seem and feel bigger than they really were.

Social Media changed all of that… and more.

While advertising still works on creating this perceived desire, things do change when all voices (the brand, the advertising agency and the consumer) have an equalized platform. Any one individual with a gripe or with something nice to say can get to the top of the search engines or have their online social network share their story (in places like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc…)so  brands, products and services have to be able to deliver. In fact, with customer reviews (or peer reviews) individuals can affect a sales outcome right there where the "buy now" button lives.

Ultimately, your brands, products and services have to hold up to this very simple adage: "it is what it is and it does what it does."

It’s great if it can do more (but if it could do more, you would probably say so in all of your marketing and communications), but it really doesn’t have to. So, when you use words like, "better, brighter, faster, 20% more, 40% off, etc…" you can disguise the true realities of the marketing initiative in the small print. Social Media is forcing companies to do away with that fine print. Seth Godin wrote brilliantly about how brilliant brands are the only way to go in his seminal best-selling business book, Purple Cow. While being remarkable should be every brand’s lighthouse, the conversation around what it takes and those who have actually done it eludes the majority of companies. Most companies still do make regular products for regular people (in fact, if everyone was able to create a Purple Cow, how would we know? We would probably need a phrase for something that is more remarkable than a Purple Cow – Purple Panda anyone?). Seth’s right, we need to get there, but most brands are falling woefully short of those purple pastures.

The point is to ensure that your product is what it is and that it does what it’s supposed to do.

That – in and of itself – is enough to begin some semblance of a conversation and the initial strikes at building a community. Sadly, most brands don’t even do that. They’ll make claims in their advertising and fight for people to understand "their side" on Twitter. It’s sad, because it is only the brands that are the exceptions to this rule that we can point to… and we can’t even do that one hundred percent of the time… and there aren’t enough great examples (hint: we need more!).

Why? Why? Why?

Why don’t brands live up to that one simple adage? Why can’t we all (as Marketers) make a commitment that our initiatives, programs and campaigns will be based on creating an appetite for something that can do what it claims and that works? One hundred percent of the time. All of the time. Without any small print. We would have a very different world. One where consumers actually enjoyed (maybe even looked forward to) advertising and one where the notion of brand loyalty would go beyond sending out mass emails to individuals who relinquished some of their privacy to simply save a few bucks.

Wouldn’t it be nice?


  1. Even the best marketers have a hard time marketing something that has unclear benefits to the consumer, and when it is just accepted that everything must be marketed and sold, that creates more space for people to make unrealistic claims, use fuzzy math, etc. Would it help if there was a sort of code of ethics for all marketers, not just those that are members of one association or another?

  2. For most of my life we have been surrounded by mass media advertising, and we all bought into the hype. We wanted “bigger” “faster” “extra-strength” “40% more” and the like, but deep down I think we all just wanted something that would work and do what it was supposed to. I remember when I was a kid and I would see a commercial for a great Ninja Turtles playset and I would want it SO BAD. Then I would get it and within the day it had broken and the stickers had fallen off, and then I was sad.
    I couldn’t agree with you more that social media has changed the way we approach advertising because now we are part of a worldwide conversation and the commercials no longer feel like they are telling the truth. Any brand worth making a promise is worth keeping that promise to it’s consumers, or it isn’t worth buying.
    Thanks for another great post, Mitch!

  3. This is exactly what I’m trying to get across to Chiropractors on my RockStar-Chiro site. Offer an extraordinary product with a Rock Star Brand and work hard to live up to both.
    Under promise and over deliver has always proven to work well…

  4. This post says everything that has been swirling in the own head lately. In fact, reading it made my heart beat faster because it is so bang on.
    Your question at the end is: Why don’t brands live up to that one simple adage?
    This is something I have been thinking about as well and I think it comes down to this:
    They don’t have to.
    This is slowly changing but I think that consumers have been sold crappy goods that don’t work for so long that the average consumer is actually happy when they are sold something that works only 75% of the time. Well, they may not be happy, but what are they going to do? Ask for a refund? Consumers do this but rarely DEMAND one. Plus, companies use complex procedures and agreements to squirm out of giving them.
    Meanwhile, I think we are a society that often looks for fulfillment in purchasing new things and cool toys (see the hoarding trend you pointed out) and feeling the sense of belonging that comes of being part of the “in” crowd that we don’t even draw much pleasure from use. Look at all the toys that sit around and garbage we sell or throw out each spring.
    You also need to think about things like software of high tech…. firms in those categories have this idea (and there is some truth to it) that you can’t make 100% locked down because if you did, you’d never release it. So software specifically has a “get it 90% there and fix the rest in future releases or service packs”. Again, this is permitted because customers have come to allow a certain margin of error in things.
    My personal view is that times are changing. Although the iPhone4 seems to have it’s problems I really think that Apple deserves credit and praise (and I’m not a fanboy) for taking the stance that something released should really work. Sure, the iPhones don’t have true multi-tasking but that’s because the phone doesn’t gum up. I had an HTC Touch Diamond before my iPhone and that thing gummed up all the time. So Apple really did a lot, in my opinion, to push things forward in this regard.
    I think the big equalizer is and will be social media. As adoption of social media becomes more mainstream, the conversations people have on the phone or in emails or in person about products will become more visible to not only brands, but POTENTIAL customers. And THAT is the key.
    Right now, I don’t know there is an overly strong relationship between crappy product and sales.

  5. This post really highlight the power of groundswell. Marketers/Advertisers are having are engage in a conversation to get the customers. There is not limit or control over what consumers can say about a product or service. I mean one blog or tweet could lose customers. It’s amazing how much has changed and will change over the next few years.

  6. The era of bullshit marketing is fading away. Customer’s bullshit detectors will only get better. Brands must walk the talk. There is no other way.

  7. Social media hasn’t quite “equalized” the communication platforms of brands/ corporations and consumers. Whilst registered audiences are large, the amount of user generated content has ballooned, so many messages still get a small audience. This doesn’t compare with the power of a mass marketing campaign.

  8. Mitch, I’d go even further to say that not only will social media or any other style of marketing or communication not save your brand, product, or service, but it’s power can be even greater in the reverse direction for a bad situation. People will sniff out your inability to perform and spread it much faster than they would if you did what you did and were what you were, even in a decent fashion.
    When someone appears ready to go down that road with me in a discussion, I clearly ask them if their house is in order. Are you ready for the spotlight to be turned upon your company? If not, don’t. Prepare to be remarkable 1st and ironically your customers will find YOU.

  9. Do a search for “kryptonite bike lock” or “dell hell” or “comcast cares” and then let me know if you think an individual’s voice is not equal to those of big business. I don’t see a connection to the viewership of consumer generated content to the fact that any one voice now has access to the same audience as big business. Yes, a mass media advertising campaign still (and will always) have tremendous power, but that still has no relevance to individual’s newfound ability to share and spread their messages as well.

  10. Two Points:
    “The point is to ensure that your product is what it is and that it does what it’s supposed to do.”
    That statement from your post says it all. I go nuts when I see the statements companies make that say one thing but deliver something so much less. Or, the statements are so inane, they are meaningless. CIBC (one of the largest banks in Canada) right now has “For What Matter” and a few years back it was “Seeing Beyond.” It’s B.S. I wish they’d stop it.
    2. Though I agree with Seth Godin about having purple cows, maybe a problem is some products just aren’t purple cows and they never will be. Marketers tend to get a hold of mundane products like a bar of soap and try to make it into something it isn’t. It’s just a frickin’ bar of soap. How about “Our Soap: Bland but it cleans.”

  11. “(in fact, if everyone was able to create a Purple Cow, how would we know? We would probably need a phrase for something that is more remarkable than a Purple Cow – Purple Panda anyone?)”
    Purple Space Panda* 🙂

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