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Show, Don’t Tell . . . The Preferred Approach

Posted in Advertising, Almost Advice, Articles, Branding, Genericide, Loss of Rights, Marketing, Non-Traditional Trademarks, Product Configurations, Product Packaging, Technology, Trademarks

FUSE 2015 is off to being yet another amazing, inspiring event for brand strategy and design professionals. The keynote speaker for day one was Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer of 3M, who delivered a very interesting presentation called: “Future Forward: Beyond Design Tourism.”

Little did Mr. Quint know that he set the table nicely for many of the points I ended up emphasizing during my presentation later in the day entitled “Back To (Trademark) School For Designers and Branding Professionals.” By the way, I was relieved the title of my presentation didn’t scare off too many attendees, it was a very engaged audience, with more questions than time to answer them all during the session, so a special thanks to all who attended.

After revealing that 85% of 3M’s business is B2B, Quint emphasized how important design is to the organization so well known and recognized for its innovation and science. But, instead of spending time and effort justifying or explaining the need for design within the organization, his preferred and recommended approach is: “Show, don’t tell . . . . the value of design.”

If that recommendation sounds familiar, you may recall that Bob Worrell, founder of Worrell Design uttered a similar message in a recent webinar that we collaborated on together:

“One of the important takeaways from our recent webinar entitled “Strategies for Owning Product Designs,” was spoken by legendary product design guru Bob Worrell of Worrell Design: “There is another adage in the design world. Advertising is the very expensive penalty you pay for poor design. I think if we listen to that adage, we’d talk less and let the product do its thing.” (quote at 1:22:31)”

Then, in that same webinar, Derek Mathers, Business Development Mananger of Worrell went on to describe how Apple is doing a masterful job of this in launching the Apple Watch, using advertising that shows the operation of the watch’s product benefits and features without uttering a single word. Apple is walking the walk, without the need for using any words.

Back to FUSE, Quint noted the majority of 3M’s value proposition for design promotes differentiation and branding; only a small amount (10-20%) focuses on optimization of products.

So, my articulated hope was that when marketing types are tempted to communicate in advertising about product optimization, little bells and whistles should alert them that the words they choose have significant legal implications that can undermine, if not destroy altogether, a brand owner’s ability to own the created design (at least as a non-traditional trademark).

My call to action for us all was to work together to Bring Down the Bauhaus Principle of Form Following Function when it comes to communicating about product design features, opting instead for the use of more brand-friendly language that strives to create emotional connections as opposed to merely touting the benefits of functional product features. Loyal DuetsBlog readers know full well where that kind of loose talk can lead. So, “show, don’t tell” became my mantra too, given the serious negative consequences resulting from ads touting function.

Quint also described how 3M created a set of visual standards around the highly recognized red 3M logo instead of tinkering with the logo itself, sharing this compelling Tom Fishburne cartoon:

brandguidelinescartoonI simply love this cartoon; it helped me make the point about how every set of brand guidelines I’ve ever seen forbids the use of brand names as verbs, yet we all know brandverbing has become commonplace, and the current generation of marketing types appear unwilling to blindly follow black and white rules without fully testing and probing the true risks of losing trademark rights through the worst case scenario of genericide.

To the extent your brand desires the emotional engagement of verbing, and you’d like to advocate for a hall pass to avoid wearing an orange jumpsuit behind the bars of your favorite legal department, here is some recommended reading from our archives to consider: Managing The Legal Risk of “Verbing Up” Brands and Trademarks.