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Battling Corporate Uncertainty

Find your one thing. Once you do, nothing else matters.

A few days ago, in our regular perusing of Ad Age, we came upon a brief blurb that got our attention. The mini-blog post focused on uncertainty. It emphasized that uncertainty has always existed when it comes to marketing. Advertising never was viewed as a sure path to success. When companies started moving to digital advertising and away from print, new uncertainties arose. What’s a “good” number of impressions? What’s an acceptable number of click-throughs? How were other companies faring who shared the same banner ad position? Then social media came along, and a lot of companies have thrown their bets on that horse. But uncertainty still prevails. It’s safe to say that the majority of marketers and C-suite executives who are polled about social media remain unsure how to measure the relative success of those efforts. That’s uncertainty.

The short blog post extended beyond marketing uncertainty, however, and it moved to a much larger, much more complex issue. Many companies today are battling uncertainty regarding their own identities. Companies who have so far withstood the great recession are still wondering if that double-dip recession could become a reality. Companies are wondering if what is happening now is the “new normal.” Will things get even worse before they start to get better? Will all of the jobs that were cut five years ago be replaced 100%?

The point of the short piece in Ad Age was that agencies can help with all of these uncertainties, and we certainly agree with that hypothesis. But company-wide uncertainty cannot be conquered through any one means. The sales department cannot defeat uncertainty. The marketing department, customer service, the C-Suite – no one portion of your company can sail in and eradicate all doubt. An agency worth its salt won’t promise that either.

Your One Thing

Back in 1991 there was a movie called City Slickers starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. Crystal plays Mitch, a 39-year-old media buyer for a radio station. He’s facing the big 4-0 and is going through what you could call a mid-life crisis. He has a family, he has a job, but he feels like he really hasn’t accomplished anything. He feels like his life is devoid of meaning. For his birthday, he travels out West with his two best friends in an effort to “find himself.” There he meets Curly (played by Jack Palance), a tough, wizened cowboy right out of the old days. Curly admonishes Mitch. “You city folk come out here expecting to find all of the answers,” he says. But what it all comes down to, in Curly’s mind, is “one thing.” Mitch asks what that one thing is. Curly answers, “You have to discover that for yourself.”

As it is with an individual person, so it is with your company. Just like with our personal lives, it’s easy to bury our company’s soul, our brands, in the every day details. Did those shipments reach their destinations? Why didn’t that sales rep call me back? Are we ready for that next trade show? Should we be tweeting or Facebooking or both? The sad reality is that as these questions pile up day by day, they do not help tone down your uncertainty. Rather, they increase your anxiety, your feelings that you’re struggling every day just to keep your head above water.

Your company needs to get back to its “one thing.” For Mitch in the movie City Slickers, his one thing was his family – his wife and two kids. Volvo’s “one thing” has been safety. Apple’s “one thing” has been innovation (or is it marketing?). What is your company, your brand, all about? What do you want your customers to think of when they think of you? How do you want to define your role? Not your job, but your role?

Finding Your “One Thing” Will Clarify Everything Else

Believe it or not, even though identifying your company’s “one thing” can be a long and time-consuming process, it will immediately begin to pay dividends. Identifying what you are, for example, also highlights what you are NOT. If you have been working on some product ideas that don’t actually fit with your identity, it may be time to abandon those products and move in a different direction. Embracing your corporate identity crystallizes who your competitors are to a higher degree. Knowing what your company is about helps you target customers and potential customers with more finely tuned marketing messages. This, in turn, will guide you as to how you should promote your products or services. Knowing who your customers are leads to knowing how they want to communicate with you. If they’re on Twitter, you should be there. If they aren’t, you need to be somewhere else right now. Defining your corporate identity and embracing that from top to bottom eliminates the log jam of uncertainty. One step will now lead to another.

Uncertainty is Contagious

Uncertainty in a company is a tricky thing because it can spread so easily. If the company’s leadership is uncertain about the future of the brand, that will affect everything. If sales is uncertain about who they should target, that will affect marketing. If marketing is uncertain what the message is, what most needs to be promoted, and who the target audience is, that has repercussions. Thinking in silos rather than as a team can make uncertainty spread faster as departments accuse other departments of stalling or of holding the company back.

Can an agency help with all of this? As a provider of an outside perspective, as an entity that likely has contact with multiple people and/or departments, an agency can offer valuable support, ideas, insights, and perspectives. The ultimate weapon against uncertainty, however, that definition of the company’s soul, that needs to come from within, and everyone in the company needs to buy into that brand message. From the leadership to the person who sits at the front desk, there must be certainty as to why the company is in business, what it is hoping to accomplish, and how it’s going to get that job done.

Are you battling uncertainty of some kind in your company? Start with your “one thing.” If you can’t name it, you’ve found the core of your problem.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/2913702181/ via Creative Commons

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