May 22, 2011

The success of the Rapture, with lessons for your brand

The Rapture? A success?

Despite the flood of jokes about the failure of the Rapture to appear on time, bear this in mind: the radio evangelist who managed and promoted this Brand netted more than $70,000,000 for his efforts. A sum, it must be added, he is not about to refund to his followers.

$70 million dollars in his bank account is pretty good evidence of non-failure.

There are at least three practical lessons in this for brand holders, perspectives about brand promise, specificity, and narrative.

A brand is a promise. (That’s a cliché, but it became a cliché because it’s true.) And the power of a brand depends on how differentiated and urgent that promise is to your target audience. Eternal life is an old reliable, which when done effectively can make followers cash in their Airstream and leave the trailer park. Is the promise of your product/service/candidate/cause even half that big and emotional and relevant? We wrote a blog entry the other day about the empty promise of superior customer service, which every prospect expects as a matter of course, and which all your competitors also claim. A non-starter.

Second lesson: Specificity. The Rapture was going to happen on May 21, 2011, precisely at 6pm. That’s about as specific as you can get, and it separated the few fervent believers from the many amused skeptics. The world-is-ending-um-someday crowd might be much larger, but they won’t contribute $70 million because it just won’t seem that urgent. Will your toothpaste make my teeth whiter, or 43% whiter? Will your business book tell me keys to sales success, or the nine keys to sales success?

Third lesson: the brand narrative must be engaging to be credible … or even to be noticed. Not only did the Rapture promise eternal happiness, it added the emotional benefit of floating Up There slowly, so you could envision thumbing your nose at those astonished non-believers Left Behind, the smug ones who slammed their doors when you handed out tracts. You’d leave your pants on the sidewalk to mock their sorry selves, the single most powerful and lasting visual symbol of the event.

Be vividly visual: It is not enough to say your paper towel cleans up spills; we want to see the nasty spill, the guilty toddler, the resourceful mom, the happy denouement, all in 4.5 seconds.