ImageIt happens all the time.

A client hires EE to write some crucial piece of branding or marketing collateral and says he wants something punchy, dynamic and attention-getting – a compelling distillation of the company or product's personality. As soon as we submit exactly that, however, we're met by a wave of second-guessing. "What if people think we're too creative or too smart or not anonymously corporate enough?" "Maybe we should just do what our competitors do; would you mind studying their websites and using the same tired, hollow jargon they use?"

Our response tends to be: You're the boss. But since we pretty much spend every day thinking about what makes branding effective and how language can light a fire under people, we urge you to reconsider. Your competitor's site? Dullsville, daddy-o. They're trying to be all things to all people, so there's no telling who they really are. They're trotting out the same muddy biz-babble – "highest quality," "industry leader," "commitment to excellence," "years of experience" "solutions-oriented," "synergy-driven" – you find everywhere. We defy the average visitor to recall a single phrase from such a dreary spiel.

The desire to appeal to the widest possible client base is understandable. But branding yourself indelibly requires you to do at least two things:
  1. clearly separate yourself from the pack, and
  2. figure out who your ideal clients are and speak directly to them.
Shirking these tasks and retreating to the murky middle ground is the quintessence of what we call "fear-based branding." And though you may feel you're just playing it safe, fear-based branding is actually toxic to the development of your brand. As the old saying goes, standing in the middle of the road only means you'll be hit by traffic in both directions.

"I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing."
      — Stephen King
"I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing," Stephen King says in his wonderful 2000 book On Writing. Clearly, he's not talking about the fear his own writing induces; he's talking about timidity, the insecurity that makes us doubt ourselves and abandon our very substance to feed some hollow myth about audience expectations or to paper over some perceived failing. But if you've had sufficient confidence to launch a marketing campaign, you should be able to summon the self-assurance to brand yourself with equal brio.

Should your marketing materials be breezy and funny, edgy and irreverent? Sure, if that's the tone your target audience responds to. Should they be effusive and passionate? Absolutely, if that crystallizes your connection to the consumer. Should they be studded with pop-cultural references? Judging by the action figures populating the offices of your staff, hell yeah.

What calls out to the most discerning consumers? Authenticity. Originality. Boldness – even audacity. Have the courage of your convictions and proceed accordingly. In short, fear not.