The presentation went swimmingly.
The client was giddy.
We could feel the good vibes coming through the earpiece.
On Monday morning, poof.
Happiness and joy had taken a powder.
FEAR AND LOATHING WERE NOW IN CHARGE
Everything was wrong.
Nothing made sense.
All the work, all the brand names that had inspired giddiness last week, were now hash and pudding.
The fear was electric.
We don't know what happened, but we can guess.
We said the only thing that seemed appropriate: "You know, the branding process isn't for everyone. If you don't want to continue, we understand."
The sense relief was as palpable as the fear had been. This was exactly what the client had hoped for: the option to flee. That door was now open, and the client sprinted through it.
That was the last we ever heard from this person.
FEAR OF COMMITMENT?
Fear of failure?
Fear of looking foolish?
Whatever it might be, branding a small business can scare the heck out of people.
In the case of the client in this story, it could have been all three.
We can only guess that the sudden fear was the result of some informal focus grouping with friends or another business consultant.
Taking unfinished material and circulating it among people who hadn't been part of the process and who had no context met with feedback that was world-shaking.
WHICH LED TO STEWING ALL WEEKEND LONG
Coming out the other end on Monday morning brought a great black knot of dread and disdain that had been nursed and cultivated for three days.
The thrilling right things were now the dreadful wrong things.
It was easier to default back to the ease and familiarity of a non-brand that had been limping along.
This happened about eight years ago. It helped inspire a centerpiece of the agreement that we now make clients sign. It's called the "Come Towards The Light" Clause. It requires that a client abstain from spontaneous focus groups with the work they've embraced.
It's also not unilateral. In return, Slow Burn Marketing promises to address all concerns fully, talk panicked team members in off the ledge, and administer adult beverages and/or dark chocolate as necessary.
The clause actually says that.
So far, it has worked out pretty well.
NONETHELESS, BRANDING STILL SCARES THE HECK OUT OF PEOPLE
And it's understandable.
If change is uncomfortable, what does that say for big change?
We have a client who's rebranding a small business in the Midwest.
This business provides a professional service for entrepreneurs and has national reach.
We made the presentation last Thursday. One of the new names was completely unexpected and utterly distinctive.
The client was giddy.
The next day, cold feet.
"I'm worried about how that will work with my local business. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to go that far."
To which we replied, "You like your local clients, and you like the name. So why wouldn't they like the name, too?"
THE JURY IS STILL OUT
We have our fingers crossed that the totally unexpected and distinctive name is going to be the one.
If not, the other names are perfectly good. We wouldn't have suggested them if they weren't.
But when you hear a client light up at the prospect of becoming THAT BRAND, the one that suddenly turns them into The Cool Kid, it's a lot of fun.
You know you've done something right.
And you also know it's right when they start out embracing it, and then become intimidated.
Wait, I have to be The Cool Kid?
The attention is all on me?
Will people still like me?
OH NO, I CAN'T DO THAT
There's an imagined responsibility that comes with using a hugely different brand name. It conjures up oblique yet frightening visions of life, the universe and everything going off the rails.
Especially when someone admires edgy brands (as this client does), and they suddenly have the opportunity to actually be edgy, a whole world of previously unimagined problems opens up like Pandora's box.
"All the evils are going to fly out and ruin my life!"
Interestingly, if you go back to the Pandora myth, with all those unimaginable evils flying out of the box, making it one of the most feared metaphors of all time, you realize that people forget what was left inside the box.
PANDORA STILL HAD HOPE
After Pandora opened the box and all those vicious nasties swirled out never to return, the one thing left inside the box was hope.
Also known as confidence.
Opening the box might unleash scary things.
But always, there is that which springs eternal.
GRANTED, HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY
Just as change is not a destination.
But the words of hizzoner Rudy Giuliani aside, this is about developing a brand. (Rather than knocking one, which is what he was doing at the time.)
We're talking about moving a business from a place that's flat and uninteresting and "me too," to a place where the prospect sits up, takes note, raises her hand, and says, "Tell me more!"
Going so far as to become The Cool Kid and shine a spotlight on yourself requires moving outside a place that's comfortable.
Standing to the side in the shadows is easy.
In filmmaking, there's a name for that person: Background.
THE BACKGROUND IS HIRED TO PURPOSELY NOT STAND OUT
Background actors do not get a lot of attention.
There is no Oscar for Outstanding Performance by A Background Actor In The Shadows, Camera Left.
But the person downstage, standing right in the spotlight?
That's where all the attention goes.
That's where the close-up happens.
Because that person is the star.
Being a star isn't easy.
But it comes with a lot of great stuff.
Stuff you get only if you have the courage, faith, promise and optimism to do what it takes to stand there in the first place.
ARE YOU REBRANDING?
It helps to think about the Outward Bound Schools.
They're a 75-year-old organization dedicated to personal growth by making people leave their comfort zones. Right there on their web pages, it says exactly that: "Leave Your Comfort Zone."
As a lawyer and sailing instructor I once knew liked to say, "Courage is not the absence of fear. It's going forward in spite of it."
At Slow Burn, we're fortunate in that somehow, nuts as we are, we attract courageous clients.
Sure, some of them feel trepidation. What they're doing is scary. Branding can be daunting. And they're also trusting us. How do they know we won't throw them off a cliff?
SOCIAL PROOF HELPS
And courage does the rest.
Branding should be scary. It's an adventure.
If a brand doesn't scare you at least a little bit, it's worth wondering: Is this good enough?
But at the same time that it's scary, it should also cause a tingling sensation.
You should be excited.
Right now, we're doing some branding for a joint venture with another entrepreneur who's much smarter than we are.
WE RECENTLY PRESENTED THE NEW BRANDING TO OUR PARTNER
We did it much as we would've with a client.
Except now, it was all about us.
And in the middle of the presentation, something happened.
I had a little adrenaline rush.
Wow. This is what our clients feel. This is cool.
If you're branding or rebranding, is the new brand making you scared?
But is it also making you excited?
That's the thrill of hope and possibility.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.