don’t invite the fat cat in

instead, focus on what really matters for your brand and leave the rest aside.

here’s a question for you: does your brand suffer from “fat cat syndrome”? in other words, do you longingly dream of fame, glory, and everybody’s lips murmuring your brand’s name and vision, word for word? singing undying love songs and creating viral videos as an ode to your label’s greatness? at all cost?

for anyone who puts time, energy, and heart into their product or service, it’s only natural that they want their brand to succeed. imagine your own case. the fact that your creation stirs something in people and is powerful enough to form a cohesive community around it should evoke deep feelings of pride and gratitude. the problem is when people want all the fame-related perks, without much consideration for anything else. think about those who can’t be bothered by the fact that their product is faulty, or that they treat their customers like tools or numbers for the sake of reaching a reputational peak. what we’re witnessing to in such cases is the classical “anything for the throne” mentality in full display.

which leads me back to the question about the fat cat, that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. the concept has been coined within the leadership sector and was initially intended for people in management and leadership positions who have an insatiable hunger for power and status at all cost. nothing more, nothing less. the problem with this kind of attitude is that it opens the door to immoral loopholes and shady behavior. encouraged by their leadership position (aka a position of power and influence), individuals who suffer from the fat cat syndrome sadly get the space to create a negative, toxic culture in their respective teams and environments. the behavioral patterns of such people often include:

  • ignoring or even discarding value-based decisions in favor of anything that will bring in wins that feed their power hunger – spoiler alert: this specific kind of hunger never gets satisfied;
  • having a disposition for dishonest behavior, if the person thinks the planned action helps him or her further down the line;
  • using manipulation à volonté;
  • encouraging a poor organizational culture, in which other individuals and groups automatically are prone to suffering – nobody thrives in places that are governed by distrust, lack of psychological safety, stress and other types of anguish;
  • resisting true innovative practices and creativity that would benefit the people (both inside and outside the organization), especially if they pose a threat to current shady maneuvers that are supporting the agenda of the leader.

I am sure you can picture people who exhibit such behaviors. whether you personally have been burned by having to work with such individuals, or are seeing their negative influence in other people’s lives, you should stay aware of fat cat attitudes and their subsequent damage. the fat cats of today only worship vanity metrics that make them look good (being #1, revering targets that desperately need to be reached, aiming for certain highly positioned revenues because of the grandeur, etc.). the rest, literally, doesn’t matter. the people they disregard, disrespect or hurt, the unethical or illegal compromises that they end up using, long-term consequences. for a fat cat, the end result justifies any action.

if we take the fat cat syndrome from the leadership realm and apply it to the branding and marketing sector, we can talk about similar behaviors, results, and people. Just think about how many companies today are…

  • investing excessively and in a one-sided manner in SEO optimization, just because they want to rank #1 on Google – because it looks good;
  • focusing only on the decorative aspect of design, leaving little space for actual value delivery (hey, at least the app icon bounces, that’s engaging for the users, right?);
  • burning through their subscriber list by sending emails to people who don’t care about them (but we need to reach that customer value goal, now!) #neverspam;
  • wasting too much of their attention and strategy direction on their competitors, instead of catering to their own customers, employees and stakeholders.

this list of bad, fat-cat-inspired marketing behaviors can go on and on.

fat cats and partial fat cats are, sadly, a common reality in today’s marketing and branding teams. most of the time, the “do-whatever-to-look-fancy” philosophy is triggered by a certain scarcity-centered management culture. it can also be attributed to team members who want to stand out from the crowd for the wrong reasons and end up employing the same mindset in their daily routine. to justify the behavior, usually fat cats link the vanity goal to a great, often indispensable outcome for the organization’s reputation. “if we get those 10,000 Instagram followers, then people will know that we are serious.” or “if we hit 1,000,000 website visitors, then we are important enough, we’ll get the visibility that will put us on the map.”

in these scenarios, the “how” behind the undertaken marketing and branding activities usually fades in the background. what matters to fat cats is the outcome. as long as the result is the one that they want, why should they pay attention to how they got there? well, the catch is that results constructed in this manner usually come at the expense of people: whether we’re talking about employees who get over-stressed about chasing unrealistic goals, or customers who end up feeling used – which, by the way, is one of the dirtiest feelings to experience and very hard to forgive. even when the team starts with the purest of intentions, if fat-cat-like behaviors creep in, those nice thoughts won’t really stand a chance against negative entitlement. ultimately, this vanity-based state of mind will hamper the normal decision-making process when it comes to brand management, and will lead us to make unfortunate and otherwise avoidable mistakes. usually, mistakes are what brings us forward as humankind, but in this case, these errors translate into situations that have no educational potential, because people don’t really learn from the situation, nor from the aftermath.

instead of letting yourself go into a fat cat mentality and getting distracted from what is truly important, think about the possibilities of employing your energy and creativity into something better.

your brand and, subsequently, your branding and marketing actions, should add value to the people who will benefit from interacting with you. focus on creating purpose, meaning, and fostering genuine moments of human interaction. those occasions don’t have to be long-lasting but need to be crafted for the long-run. your brand interactions should inspire something in people, because that is what will stay with them, in their brains and hearts. always choose for meaning over fancy.

there is, actually, an entire movement going on around returning to branding and marketing basics, around doing things that add true value.

Tim Ferriss, one of the most listened-to podcasters in the world, talks about the faulty thought process of fancy branding. so does branding expert Martin Lindstrom, when he addresses how important it is to do things with discernment and passion, not for greed and glory. Seth Godin‘s entire thought-leadership career is based on the same idea of adding value versus running after meaningless, fancy goals. to top it all, there is even a podcast that started out of this frustration with current shady marketing practices (it’s called Everyone Hates Marketers, created by Louis Grenier, and you should definitely check it out).

now, let’s bring it back to you and your brand. you can join this meaning-first movement, by taking a hard look at what you currently support in your marketing or branding related role. I’d recommend you run a little reflection experiment when you have 15 minutes to spare, to see where you are at on the fat cat syndrome scale. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • where are the fat cats in my branding and/or marketing processes? how do they distract us from doing the right thing?
  • how can I deal with fat cats and their impact on my/our branding/marketing results?
  • am I a fat cat? if yes, please set aside some extra time to let this thought sink in and try to get to the bottom of it, because changing ourselves is one of the most painful, yet inspired things we can ever do, and this might be a very important breakthrough moment, as a professional and as a human being.
  • what can I currently do to bring the brand I represent on the right/better path? – don’t limit yourself only to branding tactics and marketing methods when you ask yourself this question, but think outside of the proverbial box, don’t leave any stones unturned.

humans are intrinsically linked to creating meaning. fat catting, on the contrary, robs us from creating or contributing to authentically beautiful moments and relationships – two inarguably important responsibilities that a brand should manifest, always. why not go with your natural flow then and infuse your daily branding activities with something more timeless and precious, like adding value wherever you can?

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