No one is.
Look, I get that we want to develop people into the best they can be, but there is a reason that we value leadership. Like all valued things, it’s rare. When we try to compel people into the role of leader, we devalue, either explicitly or implicitly, the idea that there is value in being a follower.
And without those followers, there can be no real leaders.
This is similar to the points John Ratzenberger and Mike Rowe have made about the push to have college viewed as the only acceptable alternative for high school students, with skilled trades presented as second (at best) class options.
I use myself as an example. I am good at my job. Sometimes very good. But then I remember the lesson of the FedEx logo, and remember that I am not a leader in the field, and that is ok. How many A list actors would do a local-market television ad? See the point? We need people who are not leaders to do the work the leaders inspire in us. I would never have come up with the arrow in the FedEx logo, but I see it, and understand it, and can use that to inform my own choices in design.
We need people who are skilled followers too. More than ever, it seems.
When is publicity bad for a brand?
Despite the old saw of their being no such thing as bad press, there is indeed such a thing, and knowing how to avoid it is increasingly paramount in today’s hot-take-driven media landscape.
But Gillette is discovering, as others have before, that taking a social commentary position has consequences. For the record, I stopped using cartridge razors back in 2013, and have only used double edged safety razors since (I use the Merkur Safety Razor and these blades), so my comments on the Gillette ad are not driven by any relationship to the company or it’s products.
Gillette is facing backlash over their ‘toxic masculinity’ ad, and that was something they could have avoided. Their parent company, Procter & Gamble, has seen their stock dip post-release. And there is a lot of chatter about switching away from Gillette products, which are a bit less than 50% of the shaving market.
So why do it? That is the question that a brand needs to answer before making a statement that can damage your market. Sometimes controversy is good – especially if you land early on the winning side. Bold statements can drive customers to you, as you show confidence and vision on an issue. This can also backfire, if you choose a position that is opposed to your customer base, or appears to be an attack on them (some analysis of the Gillette ad suggests that the tone is scolding or one of talking down to the customer).
My advice to the small business brand manager or brand decision makers is to avoid commentary on social issues at all costs. And if you feel the need, be sure to be aspirational, positive, and pick a safe topic. You won’t offend anyone by standing up for equality, but might if you choose a more fringe aspect of your issue.
The core function of business is to move a product, and make a profit. Taking social positions is not the function of a business, and has all too often caused harm. Gillette won’t be going anywhere, a 1 person shop just might.
There are few things more satisfying than landing a new client – and then getting a monthly support contract on top of it. There are also few things more demoralizing than when that client seeks outside advice to refresh their project. How do you deal with that, with the need to be professional, and still admit your personal feelings?
Well, you blog about it, of course! And in the preparation for blogging, you have to come to realize that there is literally nothing bad about this situation. Nothing at all.
First, you still landed the client. Take that win! Second, take a moment to look over the relationship with your client. Did you do all you could, within the scope of your contract, to make them happy? Did you behave in a consistently professional manner, and always remember they are the boss? Did you complete tasks in a timely fashion? There are a lot of things like this that you can look back on, and maybe see a pattern – and if you did all this, and can honestly say to yourself that you did the best you could, then you need to move to the next step, and this is the hard one.
Accept it. Be gracious. Seek to learn.
Hard to do – accepting it less so, as it is likely a done deal, but still not easy. Being gracious is not to be understood as being subservient or allowing people to walk all over you. Being gracious is part of being a team player. Even if you are no longer on the team. It may be hard, but this is the professional response. Be useful too – you know things that the new person doesn’t, and by being gracious, you also make a new contact – one who is not responsible for your client looking elsewhere. Lastly, seek to learn – we all have different skills and foci. By learning from a new person’s work, you can increase your own ability, and in the long run make yourself more marketable.
In the end, this situation happens for one reason and one reason only. Somewhere, somehow, in some manner you failed the client. You may not ever know how, it may be something happened that is wholly out of your control or influence. It may have been a miscommunication, misunderstanding, or whatever. Honestly, in the end, that isn’t so important (still worth some searching to find why, to make yourself better or to understand the situation better). You still failed in some way.
And that’s ok. Failure isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. By accepting this, you become better at your work, stronger as a candidate for future work, and you know what can happen, and what to avoid.
Negative space is one of those things like dark matter – it is out there, but too many people don’t know it is there, or what to make of it. But we all see it. One of the best, and most visible, examples is the FedEx logo. The negative space between the E and X form an arrow, pointing to the right, signifying progress.
Why use negative space? The answer is related to subliminal marketing – your brain sees the marker, the message, and files that away. Studies on subliminal effectiveness vary from ‘not at all’ to ‘total’. Pick your study. But the connection is there – and if there is a need to force a decision, that little bit of nudge can push the customer over the edge.
How? It creates what I describe as a ‘positive connection’. By relating the negative space to a positive impression, the brain is trained to like a certain thing. Since we, in the west, read left to right, moving to the right is seen as progress. So, by adding the impression of progress to the logo, FedEx created a positive connection between themselves and progress and moving forward.
Negative space is not a required design component for every project, but an awareness of it is – you need to be aware of what the space around your design is doing, to avoid sending the wrong message.
Every small business engages in marketing, it seems like many don’t know it.
Marketing is easy, and if you have your own company, you are doing it 24/7, whether you know it or not. For anyone with their name on their vehicle, you are marketing when you cut that slow driver off in rush hour traffic. You are marketing when you get bounced from a bar in your company t-shirt. You market when you litter, are rude, don’t hold the door, and every time you do anything that is not acceptable in polite society. This is the trick – you have to be aware of your actions, especially when you are, in any way, representing your company.
And you are always representing your company! Just because you don’t have a sign on the vehicle, or a logo on a shirt, you are your company in every interaction you have, both on and off line. Your whole public persona is your brand, and you market that brand daily. It is important that you, and I, think about that when we see a post that supports the other side of a passionate belief – from religion to politics to baseball. Our responses will be tied to us as long as there is an internet to find these things. As we are finding out on a daily basis.
I decided to update this post in the wake of the almost-daily toppling of a cultural icon for deeds in the past. I don’t see as many over comments online – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. In every encounter, we have the choice to be good or to be bad – in this case good is someone who is gracious, thoughtful…the kind of person I am sure we all want to be. Bad, however, is the troll, the person who attacks, belittles, and insults. When we, as small business owners, take that route, we become the problem, and out businesses can suffer for it.
If I am given the choice between doing business with someone who is a thoughtful poster on their social platforms (or doesn’t cut me off in traffic, or commit other social interaction sins), or their opposite number, who do you think gets the business? Obviously, the person who isn’t a jerk. That is just human nature, and something we all need to expect our potential customers will do.
So always remember, you are your company, and well be the only face some people ever see. Make sure you are a good ambassador.
updated december 15, 2018