Better Sorry than Safe

by | Apr 2, 2005 | Marketing

(I wrote this back in 2005 but I preach the same principle today.)

The brands we respect, the brands we’re drawn to, the brands we’re compelled to follow are those that are willing to let go of their fear and do what they know is right for them.

I recently worked on a corporate identity project for a small partnership business. Throughout the brainstorming process, they emphasized their desire to come across “professional,” “corporate,” and “trustworthy.”

What they were really saying was “not two guys working from home,” “not two guys working from home,” “not two guys working from home.”

People trust what they know, not what appears to be trustworthy. Let’s say you’ve got all your life savings in a suitcase. Whom do you trust to hold it for the night?

  • A charming, gray-haired gentleman in a 3-piece suit who eloquently dodges your questions about his background, but he speaks very reassuringly about his qualifications.
  • Your Uncle Fred, who claims to have been abducted by a UFO and belches after every meal.

Personally, I’d go with Uncle Fred. I know him. I trust him.

Why, then, do so many companies try to be the guy in the suit?

I’m guilty of it myself. My agency’s About Us page used to have the line “We’re not cheap.” I asked several people to look at the site before it went live, and nearly all of them pointed out that phrase. It was too obnoxious, too bold, too presumptuous. Eventually, I was persuaded to change it to “We’re worth every penny.”

As I write this, several weeks after the initial launch, I realize just how bad the watered-down version sounds. I wanted to make a fundamental point about the company (that we’re not a “discount” web house), and I blew it because I was trying to be the guy in the suit.

I’ve just changed it back. Some people might be offended by it, but that’s okay. Perfect promotional copy persuades nobody. It’s dull. It’s half-hearted. It lacks a real message. I hate to read the stuff, and I don’t want to inflict it on my potential clients.

In the field of corporate naming—yes, there are people who get paid big money just to come up with names—there are two companies that I love:

Those are great names for naming companies. They’re awkward, unpleasant, and ugly-sounding. Compare them to the following:

  • The Naming Company
  • Namebase
  • ABC Namebank

The difference is that A Hundred Monkeys and Igor built their brands around an identity, not around fear that they won’t look professional enough. They stand out of the crowd. They’re memorable. They’re loveable.

You can love Igor. You couldn’t possibly love “ABC Namebank.”

Give your audience the opportunity to accept your weaknesses. Assuming your faults aren’t insurmountable (if they are, you probably shouldn’t be in business anyway) you’ll find that people are actually very forgiving.

In fact, they’ll probably trust you more than before, because now you’re the devil they know instead of the devil they don’t. You’re crazy Uncle Fred that they trust with their money, not the shady guy in the suit.

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