Marketing Plots: the About You/Us Myth

(Previously published on the Landor Blog as “Knowing me, Knowing you.”)

“Is our brand more ‘about us’ or ‘about you?’”

Agencies and clients alike, we all love a good positioning matrix.

To begin with, they are dangerous creatures, as their seductive powers come from the brain’s cognitive preference for clear cut dichotomies, and life isn’t always black and white. Taking two dichotomies and using them together is that power squared, but so is the danger.

Love, respect, and fear them—they’re not going anywhere any time soon. However, it will be useful to start rejecting some common false dichotomies that tend to make reoccurring appearances.

The one I want to mention this time is when one axis (usually the X) talks about the difference between "talking about us" (the company/brand) and "talking about you" (the audience/customer).

Usually the assertion will be that the brand is too inwardly orientated, talking about the detail of the products and the history of the company instead of the needs and solutions of the customers, audiences, or stakeholders.

Time and time again?I’ve seen it used as a central dimension to the analysis of positioning, often favoured by research agencies.

The bias is in the question itself, compounded by a guilty residue from an era before customer-centricity. A concept that is now hygienic to every industry (at least as an ambition).

Beginning with the question: the world we live in is just not like that. Most of the best brands you could think of will be neither. Apple talks about its products and culture, but is a brand that cares deeply about meeting needs and ease of use. The same can be said about Google. Coke is very much about the product and the myths that come with it, it’ll be tempting to position them opposite to Pepsi and say that Pepsi is more about its drinkers and Coke more about its own brand. But in truth: 1) Coke has adapted its myths to centre on changing lifestyles time and time again. And, 2) Is it really that helpful to put them on this axis to begin with?

The best brands are both about themselves and about their customers. Apple, on different analysis pieces I’ve seen, is placed on either end of the spectrum—being "about Apple" to differentiate from and "about the customer" as a pointer at the important-but-generic-for-the-last-30-years (at the very least) practice of customer centricity.

Going back to the bias in the question: If you ask customers in focus groups or individual interviews what they prefer, what do you think they’ll answer? Of course they will say: "Me! Me! Talk about me!" But we know that in the mysterious mix required to make them pay attention they also want to know who "you" are and why is it worth paying attention to what you have to say.

So can we just stop using it and pretending that it adds any meaningful insights?
Thank you.