PowerPointing the Finger

Leave it to the military to defend our world from an insidious evil. Recently the New York Times featured an article about the military's use of PowerPoint. It has been commented on by Mr. Seth Godin over at his blog (which you really should read with some regularity). Both the military and Godin do a fine job of describing the ways in which PowerPoint, through no fault of its own, is eroding how we communicate and make decisions. And there are lengthy thoughts about proper ways to use the program and the best way to design slides for a presentation. However there is a larger context for the misuse of PowerPoint, and that is that people often misunderstand how people receive information and communicate.

This misunderstanding has direct impact on how clients perceive their own brand, what their definition of a brand is, and what tools they desire to communicate with. The belief and desire that one can distill important information into a bulleted presentation and communicate all manner of intricacies is the same as the belief and desire that a logo will be able to do the same. This belief breeds the idea that they can suddenly become relevant by adopting the latest social media craze. And so it goes. And in the end they lose site of the fact building a brand is a slow burn.

Most brands seem simple on their face. Nike, Apple, and Starbucks offer easily definable things – shoes, electronics and coffee. But in the end their stories and brands are much more complicated than that. Their brands are about experiences, or lifestyles, or tactile joy or all of the above. And building these brands takes time. It takes effort. It takes repeated interaction and finding all the avenues that best communicate the brand. There is no quick hit. "Just do it" very effectively sums up Nike's attitude and the lifestyle they promote, but it really only comes together after you've taken in all that Nike has done to build the brand (stores, shoe design, commercials, sponsorships, community outreach...). Without those things, "just do it" is meaningless. For people to identify with something they have to experience it in totality.

Now imagine yourself giving a PowerPoint presentation and you have the bullet point "just do it" on your lovely slide. You show the marketing exec this bit of genius and explain the context that surrounds it. They love it. Then the CEO asks to see the presentation. She looks at your bullet point. She gets the marketing exec on the phone, who can only halfway provide context. She looks at the bullet point again and scratches her head. She then pitches the PowerPoint in the round file and chews out the exec. The exec says it's all there in the PowerPoint. But it's not. And the great idea dies. And the finger of blame is PowerPointing directly at you.

There is a saying that it's a poor musician that blames his instrument. But we should be clear, that if your a guitar player, you probably shouldn't try to play a song on the clarinet. Unfortunately that's what happens all too often. Don't say I didn't warn you.