May 14, 2010

The Curse of Being “Professional”

I am tired of companies that want to be “professional.”  This is just another way of saying, “I want to be bland, boring and like everyone else.”

What is “professional?”

Being safe.

Blue is the professional color. IBM has made blue resonate as a strong, stable and reliable color.  So of course oodles of B2B companies choose blue to capture some of IBM’s good mojo.

Functional names are professional. Compaq and HP are good stable names.  They don’t say much, but they sound like good, reliable names that won’t offend anyone.

Corporate speak is professional. “We are the oldest and largest firm.”  “We are an international company, with offices in fifteen countries.”  Stick to the facts, and nothing but the facts.  Too bad this copy lacks any semblance of a personality.

Royalty-free stock photography is professional. Stock photos use beautiful people in interesting places.  There are tons of photos available, and you can always find one that will fit in a brochure or a website.  Only problem is the same photos can be found on 5,000 other companies’ marketing collateral too.

Don’t be professional.  Be POLARIZING!!!

Todd Henry, founder of the Accidental Creative, describes this phenomenon as “Shooting for the 3.”

Ever wonder why pop music is bland?  This is because things that evoke a strong response in research, (a “5”), tend to be polarizing.  Either you love them or you hate them.  Therefore the goal is to be “just good enough” that a listener won’t change the radio station, but not so good that the song is polarizing.  [They’re] “shooting for the 3.”

Why not change things up?  Be different.  Be remarkable.  Be polarizing.  As Todd says, “be a 5.”  These are the traits of powerful, inspiring brands.

Apple, Virgin and Caterpillar have remarkable names.  IKEA has a great palette of energetic colors anchored with gold and royal blue.  Zappos.com uses personal language on their website that gives their company heart and personality.

Don’t mimic the safe, solid brands.  Take a leap, and truly be yourself.  Work to express the true, authentic side of your company’s culture and values.  This is where you will find the inspiration to create a remarkable brand.  A brand that stands true to itself.

When you strive to be a “5” you will stand out in your industry.  You will separate your company from its competitors.  You will draw in the right customers.  Sure you may push away a few customers.  But that’s ok.  They probably weren’t a good fit.

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