Whenever I hear “Maslow’s pyramid” pronounced in management consultancy environments, in the grace year 2017 AD, I become nervous. People still stick mysteriously to an alluring theory of the fifties in nowadays business playground. Quoting from Maslow after the work of Viktor Frankl, Daniel Pink, Simon Sinek and after zillion of studies published in Harvard Business Review on motivation – not to mention MRI and neurosciences – is like searching for a floppy in the era of VR.
Why is Maslow still intellectually enticing here and there – and my hope is that we talk of an intellectual approach here and not an inertial, obsolete well masticated opinion, ready to effortlessly eat. Well, would it be because of its logically progressive, slothfully evolutionary, stage-by-stage approach which is easily devoured by our more-at-hand left sided brains? Of course the taxonomy of needs is correct; the problem rises with their following one to another chronologically. Needs are well organized indeed, but humans are not deterministic pawns.
Motivation triggers proved to be nothing of what Maslow imagined. It is obvious that people starving will not die if they don’t hold a Facebook account, but reality proved that even people deprived from the basic of means will aspire and get fed by their dreams simultaneously. Self-actualization happened in concentration camps, illumination happens in total scarcity. People are an ontological continuum and not progress bars.
In organizations people don’t get motivated by the carrot and the stick to progress and give “the best of them”. A raise motivates on the very short term – and with a boomerang attached to their back! – while a purpose and a humanly sane climate keep people thriving on so many levels.
Factors dismissed as fluffy can produce solid, sustainable financial results in the long run. Intangibles like dignity, laughter, friendship, mutual respect are as hard as currency.
But most of all the purpose, the greater good, the alignment to whatever vision there is bigger than themselves, transcends the very object of work and gives people endless fuel. And fortunately enough this does not happen after all employees reached their highest managerial level and are all CEOS with consolidated bank accounts. The power of a human aspiration, “man’s search for meaning” reverses the mighty pyramid and makes the people’s evolution delightfully unpredictable.
Or become yourself a Demiurge.
What’s in a name, though? A whole world trapped in a tiny group of letters that has to be relevant, powerful, distinctive, memorably-outstanding, creatively –intriguing and last but not least protect-able (IP wise) in such a noisy and taken rhetoric of the post creationist world.
There is a single huge intellectual challenge in naming: how to compose with your mind a little piece of reality that speaks directly to people’s gut? Or heart?
If you, as an entrepreneur search for the best name for your business, you have to take into account a few common sense principles. Or search for a good naming strategist.
Who happens to apply the same principles, by the way.
1. Emotional enticement, not linguistic smartness. A good name has to have a certain resonance that goes beyond a fortunate combination of letters. There is no recipe for appealing effectively to the subconscious, still this is what a good name should do: exercise a bizarre stickiness to the hearing or sight. Once perceived, it should remain there like a personal positive memory that cannot be grasped by the reasoning.
2. A core promise encapsulated in the very essence. A name should speak ultimately about a brand fundamental promise. A name IS a promise of value. And this is why naming should follow a clear brand with a well-defined essence. A name does not precede a branding process; it is part of it instead. Ideally, naming is a consequence of a clear brief issued after a decided positioning.
3. Relevance for the industry against freestyle fantasy. Although its alchemy is very intricate, a good name should send a spear of meaning towards the field of activity, the industry in which the business exists. It should be anchored and recognizable. The least touch of pragmatism is always preferable to aerial poetry in business.
4. Drama inside, rhyme, alliteration and letters music always help. There are no rigors at all as there are countless exceptions for any rule you are trying to make in this domain. Still, good names seem to perform on a stage and feel uninhibited.
5. Pure business description is better left to a descriptor. Although it is a temptation to start a naming process from a puzzle of disparate pieces or concepts that you have to recombine, maybe a descriptor (immediately linked to the name, even part of the visual identity) is a better solution. Safer, in any case.
Reality check: domain and IP availability are the cold shower for any naming strategist. The real maturity and expertise of a “name-er” is when she generates a restrained list of names with highest potential for protection rather than a long list that dies a little with every new search. Nothing is new and unregistered on Earth and there seem to be no business ideas left that haven’t already sprung in somebody else’s mind. But the beauty of it is that there are still some gems out there…
Out of all stages of a branding project, I personally find naming the most rewarding. There is an endless playground out there with some pale and unconvincing rules and restrictions here and there, but the rest is pure enjoyment.
I just visited the Romanian Kitsch Museum, a recently launched respectable institution in the Old City Center of Bucharest. Targeted to expats, but equally entertaining indigenous, the museum is unique in its kind – congrats to the founder whom I happen to know.
What inspired me to write about this visit? The striking parallelism between kitsch and the lack of branding.
A strange feeling that self promotion with no solid background and authentic stake behind leads very much to kitsch.
What lies beneath all exhibits in the museum is the constant yelling for attention. Kitsch is luxuriously pathetic in attention grabbing. In its essence kitsch is the opposite of authenticity (and the opposite of refined taste, but as a secondary consequence). Kitsch is fake, imposture, wannabe, imitation, lacking the slightest hint of self-humor. Kitsch is serious, takes itself seriously and wants popularity at all cost.
So are the vast majority of objects, products, people, services and companies that lack a backbone in their promotional fury. In the absence of an introspective silence of a few minutes, they assault the stage and start pouring.
If companies, people or products do not take time to answer to some hugely basic questions before entering the public space, they are not far from fake and imposture:
- Who am I, truly?
- What sets me apart? What’s my offer to you?
- How can I make a sustainable promise that I will keep?
- Why do I actually stand in front of you and want a slice of your attention?
Why do 80% of new launches fail? Because they start by yelling first, I suppose. Visibility, availability, approachability are not necessarily about branding.
Striving and starving for attention are not about branding either.
Kitsch is a hilarious extreme consequence of anti branding. Yet extremely popular, colorful, noisy and seriously set to thrive.
The latest issue of Harvard Business Review dedicated to leadership just released a 10 years long study on CEOs performance called The CEO Genome Project, meant to identify the specific attributes that differentiate high performing CEOs (executives meeting or exceeding expectation in their role according to board members and key stakeholders), if any.
The entire research can be distilled down to 4 specific behaviors that proved to be common to all CEOs:
- They make decisions with greater speed and greater conviction
- They engage for impact their employees and other key internal stakeholders to get participation and alignment
- They adapt to changes quicker than others
- They deliver reliably, meaning they are desirably predictable in following their commitments.
Wow. Holy Graal.
News is that common sense has now 10 years of research behind and data on its back.
The great news is that fundamental values nurture the human soil at all levels. The magnificent news is that – now that we know – we can really focus on what matters: being a better human being, before being a CEO.
Out of the 4 major discoveries, I dare to detail a bit the second one, as it regards directly my own field of expertise. Good CEOs engage their people, it seems. I witnessed and personally delivered tens of sessions where employees started to look differently at their CEO and at their own role in the company just because they were there at the same table with the top decisions in due time. Because they were consulted, “perceptually-audited”, asked what they believe. Whenever I perform an employee engagement assignment I start from the bottom up: perceptional audits are the ground zero of any organizational engagement project. Engagement is obtained if people know, if they are consulted, asked relevant, deep and maybe never asked before questions and if they can open themselves in front of a third party person with no stake in the company (aka the brand consultant). They are engaged if they find their personal statements alongside other colleagues’ statements well curated in the list of CEOs decisions.
Engagement is a matter of being true to people, sensing their concerns, but also adapting your perspective to their own lenses. If a CEO is truly concerned to define and redefine the goal of value creation then in this process he/she should get employees in the same boat. What it means, this boat? Maybe troubled waters, maybe hard work at the rows, who knows? I quote from the conclusions of the research and nod in deep approval: CEOs who engage stakeholders do not invest their energy in being liked or protecting their teams from painful decisions. In fact, both those behaviors are seen in low performing CEOs. Instead, they instill confidence even if this means making uncomfortable or unpopular moves.
Branding is a journey of real life, no BS, authentic decisions and no sugarcoating.
Now, scientifically proven.
The rhetoric arsenal usually taught whenever we approach charisma is the already classical weaponry of persuasion: metaphors, analogies, rhetorical questions, stories, anecdotes, contrasting points, repetitions, dramatic pauses, not to mention versatile facial expressions, ample gestures and last but not least an animated and penetrating tone of voice.
They are not at all unimportant; on the contrary, they make the entire beauty and force of self-expression. They are overtly taught in leadership courses, trained in public speaking modules and consciously practiced in everyday life.
But subconsciously? Oh, what a brave new world unfolds here!
There is something that remains constantly more powerful and that delivers a force replacing this entire arsenal of teachable tools. And this is moral conviction, the underworld of inner truths. Being sure that what you say reflects what you truly believe and staying …holistic are key to exerting charisma and making people follow you. “The essential element in personal magnetism – Bruce Barton once said – is a consuming sincerity, an overwhelming faith in the importance of the work one has to do”.
The mother of all mimics and body language cannot cover a fake discourse, fake feelings and fake values.
As values are what you display, what you wear and what you breathe. Emanating confidence is a consequence of trusting yourself, your own map, your instincts and your knowledge. Convictions transpire through our Freudian slips and undertones are audible even if well buffered.
And maybe this is why we speak so much of integrity these days. So much that it became a buzzword. Which is actually pitiful.
The term designates the concept of remaining entire, un-fractured, un-split in whatever you do. I think branding is intrinsically a matter of integrity because unless you gather yourself, you cannot answer simply, sharply to the question: what are you about, basically? Promotion and advertising with no branding is pure noise, charisma with no integrity is pure danger.