Four Zombie Ideas of Branding That Refuse to Die

By On Influence and Influencers Archives
Cover image for  article: Four Zombie Ideas of Branding That Refuse to Die

I recently came across an article that talked about the "zombie ideas" that exist in the insurance industry. What initially intrigued me was the mention of zombies. Once I pushed past my nerd tendencies, I thought about it more and it began to make sense. Zombie ideas are ideas that refuse to die, even though they are generally terrible and have outlasted their usefulness.

Just like the zombie hordes of The Walking Dead, zombie ideas find a way to resurface over and over again and are hard to kill. I would be hard-pressed to find a space that is more infected by zombie ideas than the world of branding. As we get closer to Halloween, I thought this would be a perfect time to dissect and kill them once and for all.

Zombie Kill # 1 – Data Is the New Oil

I wrote an entire piece walking through exactly why this analogy needs to be thrown in the trash. There is no denying that data is essential. Data is a tool best used to tell us "what happened," but is less helpful in showing us "why something happened." Blind adherence to data as a salve to human-centered challenges will continue to drive poor results and inferior branding, as well as reinforce a business narrative of extraction. Many marketers are drowning in an array of ones and zeros and hoping that sheer volume will generate useful insights.

Marketers persist in thinking data is their best option and, in turn, people continue to reject a majority of marketing messaging. In a study performed by think tank Credos, results show that the public perception of advertising was at an all-time low. Data isn't the only cause, but the heavy reliance on data at the expense of creative certainly doesn't help.

Zombie Kill #2 – Lack of Diversity Is a Pipeline Problem

It is no secret that there is a lack of diversity in the marketing and advertising industry. To address this problem, many organizations have instituted programs to increase the number of underrepresented groups in the industry. Conventional wisdom is that if minorities are exposed to the industry and adequately mentored, there is a chance to change the look of the industry. This premise might be well-intentioned, but it is false.

The lack of diversity in advertising is not a pipeline problem; it is a status quo problem. Leaning on pipeline as the primary explanation for the lack of diversity assumes a diverse talent pool isn't already available. However, there are more than enough people of color and women with experience, awards, and client savvy to have better industry representation. However, there is a lack of willpower to hire them.

Pipeline becomes a convenient excuse to kick the can down the road while ignoring a current pool of available talent. Rather than confront the systemic bias that exists in the advertising industry, it is much easier to just lay the lack of representation on the so-called "pipeline problem." This zombie reasoning leaves seasoned professionals scrambling for opportunities. At the same time, younger people entering the industry don't have senior mentorship reflective of their background. Disenchanted, they end up part of the churn and we return to the pipeline once more.

Zombie Kill #3 – Demographics Still Matter

We are living in a post-demographic reality. The alphabet soup of conventional demographic groups, Gen X, Gen Z, millennials, and on and on, aren't capable of capturing the complexity inherent in our choices. Of course, there are broad strokes that marketers can gather from observing people by demographic clusters. But, instead of just relying on the surface observations that come from demographics, it would make more sense to understand the shared values that are motivating decisions.

That deeper understanding, which is more meaningful, requires linking value systems with seemingly disparate groups. Listening to weak signals that naturally coalesce and take shape in the margins of dominant cultures can provide incredible intelligence on critical shifts in values.

Demographics matter a lot less than we believe and having a values-centric perspective will undoubtedly be more valuable in the long term.

Zombie Kill #4 – The Bigger Your Spend, the More Relevant Your Brand

If you want to create a powerful brand, then you have to spend a lot of money — the bigger your budget, the more significant your impact — goes the logic. If this were the case, all of the money regularly flushed down the toilet for Super Bowl ads would have resulted in some significant brand building.

Large budgets can increase awareness, but that is not the same as having brand relevance. Brand relevance is not only based on your message (which can be influenced by your spend), but it is also dependent on how people perceive you. What do people feel about your brand? Is there a meaning or context to their lives that makes your brand matter? If your brand is absent, meaning it won't matter how much money you spend, it won't help you achieve relevance.

Grab Your Stakes and Chainsaw

Zombie ideas are persistent, lumbering from one agency to another, infecting everyone they come in contact with. Zombie ideas are nefarious because of the corrosive nature of the thinking and the allegiance they command to beliefs that are way past their prime. Zombie ideas prevent real solutions from taking root and flourishing. Zombie ideas limit the imagination of those who should be the most creative in solving the serious issues of diversity and brand relevance.

It's time to sharpen the stakes and aim squarely for the head, putting down zombie ideas once and for all.

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