The Marketing Mask, and Why You Need to Toss It—Now

‪By definition, Brand Identity Design doesn’t tell you who customers want you to be. Instead, it tells customers who you really are.

For everyone, it’s a scary exercise. But for most, it’s a rewarding, self-actualizing, and dividends-paying investment. It nets leaders more of their ideal customers, enables greater efficiency and profitability, and leaves them wondering, “Why didn’t I do this years ago?”

Other leaders, though, never overcome that initial tinge of fear. Some are so frightened, in fact, that at the very next opportunity, they put back on their dusty old Marketing Mask. And why not? The Marketing Mask is a people-pleaser. It shows customers whatever they want to see. It looks like Randy Newman, and it whistles a promise that whoever you are, and whatever you need, You’ve got a friend in me.

But upon closer scrutiny, it’s apparent the fabric of the Marketing Mask is an outdated, erroneous pattern of thinking. Each fiber in that pattern proclaims something wild and fallacious—something like, “The buyer at my target account really likes [x] supplier, and [x] supplier does this, so I should do it, too.” Or, “The secret ingredient to my method is [y], but no one in my space takes [y] seriously, so I shouldn’t talk about it.”

The danger of the marketing mask is the false promises it creates, and the expectations it fails to set. All stitched together, its fibers create a pattern that sounds logical, that looks rational. In reality, it’s just methodical rationalization—and there’s a big, big difference between the two.

To any objective observer, the symptoms of wearing the Marketing Mask too long are obvious. Businesses stuck in ruts or stranded on plateaus for months, years, decades—these businesses, more than likely, are led by people who like their Marketing Mask, thank you very much, and fully intend to keep wearing it. While I understand the impulse, I’m nevertheless vexed, profoundly, each time I see a brilliant leader of otherwise sound mind shrink from the sight of his or her own reflection. It’s companies who refuse to self-actualize that suffer a fate of mediocrity. Of never realizing their true potential in the marketplace. Of never—as Jim C. Collins so eloquently put it in his 2001 book—making the leap from good to great.

In a free market economy, where technology has had a steroidal effect on disruptive innovation, and where indispensable mega brands go six feet under every day, you can choose to continue wearing your Marketing Mask. But if you do, you heard it here first: Your. Days. Are. Numbered. Someone else is one meeting, one sale, one contract away from making the next Toys ‘R Us out of you.

Can you ensure your own longevity in your space? Sure you can. But the trick isn’t to be all things to all people. The trick is to be comfortable with what you see in the mirror.


Also posted on LinkedIn

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