Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The promise to transform

I squirm whenever I'm around someone who promises to transform people or companies. The verb transform may seem innocent enough – meaning simply to change one thing into something else. But for me it projects the unsettling aura of religious fanaticism or the threat of turning men into frogs. Worse, it presents the likelihood of flat failure to transform anything other than a richer customer into a poorer one.
That's why I counsel clients against promising to transform their customers. Sadly, it's a popular brand promise, bespeaking the limited impact of my advice. There are books about transforming your business, a transformyourmarriage.com website, promises to transform your body and your backyard, and last year a Mountain Dew "transform your summer sweepstakes." 

Today major, reputable organizations promise to transform their clients the way companies promised "solutions" in the 1990s and "client advocacy" in the early 2000s. Transformation is in vogue. CA promises to transform IT management. The Art Institute of Chicago offers art that transforms. ArcelorMittal, a maker of steel products, is engaged in "transforming tomorrow" no less. I suppose we're all changing tomorrow by what we do today, so the claim is not philosophically ludicrous. On the other hand, if this company, which recently revealed that "we believe in boldness," is deliberately conspiring to change tomorrow into something else – like yesterday? or ball-bearings? – then I think the rest of us ought to have some say in the matter.

Finally, Alcatel-Lucent, the struggling provider of infrastructure hardware and services, is "transforming your business" and "transforming communications for a world that's ALWAYS ON." A recent press release explained that "Alcatel-Lucent will showcase its integrated approach for end-to-end transformation, which is based on a comprehensive portfolio of innovative solutions designed to help service providers benefit from new and existing business models that exploit the ability of advanced broadband networks to deliver profitable growth." 
Okay. My hope is that the Alcatel-Lucent team will seize this opportunity to change their language from buzz-words into a simple brand promise that doesn't sound like it was written by a human being transformed into a parrot.



Anonymous said...

Your insights are transforming me into a frequent reader of blogs. Okay, actually I am only reading THIS blog. It's actually interesting (yes, I expect payment for these fawning comments!).

brandsinger said...

You're very kind. Keep the compliments flowing. Send me a pay-pal account number and I'll mail you your payment.