Mystique Mistakes

An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance.

This is sadly true, and for marketing mavens it is a cursed blessing.

The fact is that people buy image. This occurs in faddish B2C markets and function-driven B2B sectors. Image is often the single most motivating factor in a purchase decision. From Louis Vuitton to Barack Obama to IBM, sales are made on the strength of image. Craft a certain image and people will lob lucre at you or elect you to high office. Fail that image and disaster is almost certain.

Reliance on mystique is both the essence and the failure of branding. Mystique is defined as “an aura of mystical power … a framework of beliefs constructed around a person or object, endowing the person or object with enhanced value or profound meaning.” In no sense of the word does mystique equate with reality. Many Hollywood stars have mystiques completely unrelated to their actual beings.

After all, everyone outside of Hollywood thought Rock Hudson was straight.

Here is where marketing can be at its best and worst, and where business decisions can break well-deserved mystiques. Quick buck artists and some evil marketers will successfully create Potemkin brands. This typically causes fast rises and even faster falls once consumers begin contrasting the mystique with reality. Great branding rests on great products that deserve great mystiques. Marketing must never create a false brand, and should advise product development on brand potentials that the market craves and which can be fulfilled.

Apple recently dented their mystique. Apple earned the brand image of cool and solid technology. When my iEverything wife hears my daily horror stories about using Windows, she smiles sweetly and attempts to convert me to Jobism (I fear that I may actually enjoy griping about inferior technology, or that I suffer from Microsoft Stockholm Syndrome). Quality of execution is part of the Apple mystique and brand. Sure, they had bugs like any other technology vendor, but they were relatively few, relatively minor and were addressed relatively quickly.

Then came Apple Maps, a product that couldn’t find local Apple stores. The resulting brand carnage and perpetual joke fest was so extreme that Apple’s CEO confessed to Maps being a failed product and recommend people find competing alternatives. This, following an over-promoted yet lack luster iPhone 5 release, reversed a couple years of Apple brand building. Apple’s mystique is ruptured. Tim Cook wears no robes.

News feeds indicate that Apple Maps was rushed to market in order to avoid deeper and lengthier entanglements with Google, who had previously bundled their mapping technology into iPhones. This business decision – to create something less than Apple customers had grown to expect – was an abandonment of Apple’s attention to detail and creation of products that grew their mystique. It was a brand assault from the inside and one that won’t vanish until Apple Maps becomes better than Google (which given Google’s lead isn’t going to happen).

Reality must be perpetuated to maintain a brand and grow its mystique. If this doesn’t happen, you have to re-indoctrinate the market which is time consuming and expensive. Failing both of these, the market will rewrite your brand for you, and they are rarely kind about it.


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