A brilliant column this morning from David Brooks at the New York Times on “particularism,” which is Brooks’ way of saying that the best brands stand for something particular. They don’t pander. They don’t follow polling results. They don’t doubt their core purpose. They don’t try to be all things to all people.
Brooks’ example is Bruce Springsteen’s recent tour of Europe, which Brooks dropped in on for a few shows. Remarkably, Springsteen’s stories about Greasy Lake and the Stone Pony resonate with audiences tens of thousands of miles away from the Swamps of Jersey. And in Brooks’ estimation, it’s because Springsteen has been committed to building his own world, that he has chosen to stand for something, and that fans all around the world know what that something is and can revel in it.
“Millions of people know the contours of these remote landscapes, their typical characters, story lines, corruptions and challenges. If you build a passionate and highly localized moral landscape, people will come.
Over the years, Springsteen built his own [world], with its own collection of tramps, factory closings, tortured Catholic overtones and moments of rapturous escape. This construction project took an act of commitment.”
Commitment. It means choosing a direction, and stripping away and leaving behind other possible directions, no matter how tempting or possibly lucrative they could be.
In the great business book Mavericks at Work, authors Polly LaBarre and Bill Taylor look at companies that have excelled in a wide variety of industries by not following the pack. All of the companies highlighted in the book stand for something. There is no question among their employees, their leadership or their customers.
It doesn’t matter what’s in your marketing tool box – advertising, social media, content marketing – if you don’t know what you stand for.
Springsteen once sang “God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of.”
It’s a sentiment that applies to businesses too.
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