Your nose is too big. Your pants don’t fit right. You’re too young. You’re too old. You’re too this. Not enough that.
You get the idea.
Every individual is insecure to some degree. But what about corporate insecurity? When a group of people come together to accomplish a goal, a culture is formed. And just like individuals, company cultures can be insecure.
Corporate insecurity was almost palpable during the NFL playoffs as U.S. carmakers and their foreign counterparts showed off their latest TV commercials. Foreign brands focused on storytelling with commercials like Nissan’s “The Briefcase,” a short film featuring an explosive car chase that invited viewers to continue the story online. Honda entertained viewers with the new Civic “Today is Pretty Great” commercial that was upbeat, quirky, and all around fun.
U.S. brands, on the other hand, screamed insecurity by focusing entirely on comparisons with competitors. Ford’s C-Max TV spot may have been the worst offender, featuring a family testimonial comparing Ford’s new hybrid with the Toyota Prius.
Nothing says “overcompensation” like calling out a competitor in an ad. You can almost feel the insecurity in the room as you imagine the C-suite at Ford or Chevy crying foul at consumers’ long-held belief that foreign cars are built better than domestic.
The problem with this form of insecurity in messaging is that it appeals to logic. Foreign brands, clearly working from confidence, appeal to emotions through storytelling, while U.S. brands continue to try to argue their way to success. And anytime a brand argues, they invite consumers to disagree.
If you watch for it, you’ll notice corporate insecurity in much of the advertising that surrounds us. But what do you do when you’re in a position to influence an insecure brand?
First, always be respectful. When you begin the hard work of building a brand, you’re stepping into dangerous territory. Company leadership can be defensive, aggressive, or skeptical when looking in the mirror. And who can blame them? How would you like it if someone walked into your home, threw all of your clothes on the bed, emptied your toiletries on the sink, and started judging all of your most vulnerable decisions that inform your identity?
As a marketing professional, think of yourself as an old-fashioned tailor. You know the type. Wise. Cool. Someone you can open up to.
When your customer comes in for a fitting, they trust you with their greatest vulnerability: their self-identity.
A tailor’s purpose is to help diminish flaws, accentuate strengths, educate about style, fit, and fabric, and fundamentally present the best side of their customer to the world.
But the best tailors do so with grace, patience, and an understanding that when a customer comes in for a fitting, they aren’t just buying a new suit; they’re placing their identity in an expert’s hands and asking them to make a dream a reality.
So the next time you see a company wearing their “fat jeans,” be nice when telling them. They probably already know. And it never feels good when someone points it out.
Jonathan Lewis is partner, Vice President and Strategy Director at McKee Wallwork + Co. Advertising, winner of the 2015 Ad Age Small Agency of the Year SW and Campaign of the Year awards. Jonathan’s firm specializes in turning around companies who are stalled, stuck or stale, publishing two books on the topic including When Growth Stalls and Power Branding. Follow Jonathan @JonathanLewis11.