Beware the dark side of business

Beware the dark side of business

So the other day I get to go to this meeting where I’m required to present what SHIFT [our company] does to an audience-of-one-man – an expert in our industry on all matters relating to who does what, and how they position themselves.

For 90 minutes I take the audience-of-one-man through our story. Who we are. What we do. How we do it. Why we do it. Followed by one massive case study, our finest example of branding at work. All delivered with flair, passion, intensity and pride.

After the meeting we all shook hands, and our audience-of-one-man headed off into the distance in a taxi. A few days later my colleague followed up with an email, asking him for an “honest” view of what he had seen and heard, and what he thought.

Well the first thing our audience-of-one-man said was that if we’re all about brand, maybe we should have the actual word ‘brand’ in our name. A somewhat literal approach to naming and branding, and a somewhat unoriginal way to go for a business that stands for daring to go where no brand or company has been before. Yes, we do in fact stand for something, and that’s why we call ourselves SHIFT.

Our audience-of-one-man then told us our personality needed some finessing. “What is SHIFT’s personality?” he asked. Obviously he missed it completely because I didn’t present it to him as a Powerpoint slide with six words on it. And then he proceeded to suggest, in his expert opinion, the sort of brand personality traits and characteristics we should be considering – very professional; proven international processes; senior; intelligent; collaborative; and easy people to work with.

Beware the dark side, my friends, because this is the exact problem in business today. It’s like a disease. A disease that comes with many names, such as professional sameness; captain of mediocrity; pull your head in mate; all hail the sacred cow. Every professional services and communications firm, consultancy and agency on this planet could and/or would say they are professional; have proven processes; have senior people; have a collaborative way of working; are intelligent; and are easy to work with.

Is this what big business and companies need from SHIFT? More professionalism and processes? Or do they need energy, enthusiasm, passion, pride, intensity, commitment, vision, bravery, purpose, and thinking and work that is truly remarkable. Because when you’re in the business of branding – be it branding your company, your team, or even yourself – you are required to move out of your comfort zone, away from the sea of professional sameness, and take the road less travelled. And that will make all the difference [to quote from Robert Frost].

Instead our audience-of-one-man was inviting and inciting us to become like everybody else. To be another company of professional service consultants wearing slick suits, shiny shoes, leather briefcases, handing out expensive business cards and dropping clever words in witty conversations and intelligent meetings. And you know what, many other people would have taken his advice and fallen victim to the dark side.

The Importance Of Being Earnest was first performed on 14 February 1895. When asked how the performance went, Oscar Wilde replied, “The play, my friend, was a huge success. The audience, however, was a complete failure”. So it was with us and our audience-of-one-man.

More reading: 

Brand positioning: More sameness = less potential
Using brand to breathe life into the machine
Employer brand and consumer brand. Why should there be a difference?
Nihil Timendum Est [Fear nothing]
Talent starts with a belief in yourself
Dead or alive? You choose
The grinding banality of sameness
The recipe for corporate mediocrity
What is so special about your brand?
10 essential personal branding tips for Twitter


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