“Controlling the Parenthetical”: Why Your Identity is Different from Your Brand

Board Blog Number 2 • October 2018

By Michael Willmann

In our first NPDC Blog we examined the search for an organization’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

And we discussed why it’s so important that you be able to describe “the whole idea behind your organization”…which is the online or traditional media equivalent of the classic thirty-second Elevator Speech.

This month, we’re going to discuss another key marketing concept, which we call “controlling the parenthetical.”
—Many marketers believe that marketing can almost always be defined as the battle to control the “parenthetical.”

What’s “the parenthetical”…it’s the word or phrase that inevitably follows the naming of an individual, product, service, or organization—including NPOs.

Think of it this way…what words or phrases come to mind when someone mentions, Warren Buffett or Angela Merkel or Donald Trump or Jack Ma or Tom Brady? Same question for Apple, Google, Facebook, and Alibaba. Same question for AI and AR. And on and on.

If you’re a pro football fan, you might say Tom Brady, QB and GOAT (greatest of all time) or you might say “Deflategate.”

If the same test is applied to Donald Trump, your answer will probably depend on where you find yourself on the political spectrum. But you get the idea.

What comes to mind is the essence of what that identity (name) means to you. It obviously doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. But it does collectively represent what “customers” think of the identity…and that, in turn, is what constitutes the “brand.” And forms the basis of the “parenthetical.”

It is that cognitive but also (and much more important) emotional connection to whatever is being described.

So marketers can and docreate identities and often express them as logos (type face, color, icon, positioning line, etc.). But marketers don’tcreate brands, that’s what customers do and that’s why marketers try to influence customers.

And that brings us to the pivotal concepts of “valuable” and “different.”

Again, there are many marketers who believe that if your good/service/organization is not BOTH “valuable” and “different,” it will fail.

Think about it. If what you’re offering (in the case that would be the services of an NPO), is not “valuable,” who will care and why would anyone support you?

We all have competition and no one has the time or energy or financial resources to support an effort that does not deliver value. And the same is true of being “different.” If you are conveying value, but others are already doing that within your niche, then you are a “me-too” provider.

So, if you can do whatever it is in a way that provides new or greater value, you have a marketing foothold. But if you’re doing what others are doing, but not doing it better or not providing it to customers or clients who were not being reached by the market pioneer/leader, or doing so cost effectively, then why should someone care?

If you’re a new soup kitchen in an area that already has five soup kitchens and no unserved population, then what’s the point? But if there is an unserved or underserved population…or if you can provide a more diverse and more healthy menu, of if you can do it at half the cost of what the other five soup kitchens are doing, then you are both “valuable” and “different.”

And you are beautifully positioned to win the marketing battle!

[Willmann is an award-winning marketer and college lecturer and he is serving as the Interim Executive Director of NPDC through the end of the year. You can reach him at 856-278-3333 or at michaelwillmann@wmsh.com.]