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Beware of the Platypus

David Bowman
David Bowman
BY: David Bowman ON January 31, 2012

We all know that a Cheetah is fast.  A Lion is powerful.  An Elephant is big.  An Eagle is bold.  A Platypus is… well.. a platypus is Sketch of Platypusa bunch of things.

When working with clients on creating a marketing strategy, developing a brand, designing a website, or any number of other creative endeavors, I frequently caution them against building a platypus.  The platypus is an interesting animal.  It is is furry, but it lays eggs.  It has webbed feet.  It’s venomous.  It has a tail like a beaver.  It has a bill like a duck.  It is a mammal, but a sort of mash-up of a bunch of creatures into one very odd one.  The platypus is overloaded with unrelated features and thus not particularly well suited to be the best in the world at any one specific thing.  Thus the platypus is the perfect animal to symbolize bad marketing.

Businesses have a natural tendency to want to be everything to everyone.  In approaching marketing, they often seek to get input from a diverse range of people, which is great.  The problem is that they then fail to categorize, analyze, and prioritize that feedback.  Accounting thinks we need the logo to be bigger.  Finance wants to add green to the color palette.  Our agency says we need a new logo.  The CEO wants to talk about how innovative we are, while the CFO wants to talk about how cost conscious we are, while the CMO wants to talk about how we are client centric.  Some customers say they want more bells and whistles, others say they want more selection, while still others want more support and service.  Instead of choosing, too many brands just say yes to all of the above.   This failure to choose inevitably leads to an identity crisis as brands try to add feature after feature, highlight function after function, and deliver a message so broad that it says absolutely nothing.   They try to be the fastest, cheapest, best quality, coolest, friendliest, traditional, proven brand in the market, and the result is that they are none of the above in the final appraisal of the consumer.  They become a platypus – a little bit interesting but not well adapted to solve a specific problem.

When you are approaching your next website design, your next piece of sales collateral, your next presentation, or the future direction of your organization, I urge you to beware of the platypus.  Look at your messaging.  Is is consistent?  Is it concise? Is the unique value you offer overly and abundantly clear?  Do your case studies, collateral materials, and client testimonials echo that value proposition?  Are there unnecessary elements that are confusing your message?

Smart brands constantly evaluate information and make choices.  Choose to be great at something specific and eliminate the rest.

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