An unhealthy obsession

What’s with the latest generation of brand buzzwords?

Here are some things I enjoy: cooking. Reading fiction. Walking up big hills.

Here are some things that delight me: sausage dogs. Pastéis de nata. Christmas Day.

Here’s something I’m obsessed with: checking the weather forecast.

I very rarely think: ‘I really enjoyed my broadband speeds last night’. It’s not often that I’m delighted by a new brand of shower gel. And although I think customers/clients/users are very important to any business, I wouldn’t call it an obsession. (Ditto data.)

As customers, we don’t use this hyperbole when we talk about brands

So why are brands using it when they talk about us?

It seems to be happening more and more. (Although actually ‘delighting your customer’ has been around since the 70s, and apparently doesn’t work anyway.)

Just last week, I saw it in Huel’s new values, which are doing the rounds online:

Most people were talking about the headline, because swear words. (I think it’s good: eye-catching, clear.) But as we were looking at that picture in the Schwoffice, our word nerd eyes were drawn down to the details; right on the left, under DNA: ‘customer and product obsession’.

I’ve seen this word a lot in brand strategies and mission statements recently, and it gives me grief. Obviously I think it’s good to be really, really interested in how your customers use your product: to sweat every tiny detail, to be restless about how things could be better.

Obsession though?

Internally, this sort of melodramatic fluff adds pressure

Huel’s top team might be obsessed with their product, but expecting the rest of their team to feel the same seems a stretch. It might be reasonable to expect your CEO to wake up in a cold sweat thinking: ‘how on earth are we going to get more vitamin B into our nutritionally complete powder meals?!’

But your HR colleagues? Your interns? Your social media masterminds? It’s no wonder workism is such big news at the moment: companies are actively encouraging that mindset. They’re endorsing an unhealthy way of thinking about something that is, at the end of the day, a fancier, healthier protein shake. So they’re actually being quite dick-ish after all.

The best brands know who they are

If they’re functional, they know they’re functional, and they don’t try and dress it up with any volume-to-eleven words like obsession, enjoy or delight.

So what does that look like? Here’s WeTransfer’s most recent campaign: Welcome to WeTransfer. Please leave.

They’re being realistic about who they are, what they do and how people feel about them. So I like it.

Does it delight me? Not quite. But I think it’s very good.

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