Fear and Trust

For all the misgivings one has in business, and in business relationships, the bottom line for the presence of adequate peace of mind for one to continue trading or developing is, and is always: Trust.

One cannot proceed very far without it in any social interaction and especially in those business areas which set out to solve problems.  This need for trust is one reason why there are Brands; because for goods and services carrying a Brand name one knows, one has a cool idea of what one is about to get when one buys an item.

Brands, when sound and reputable, go some way towards guaranteeing a level of quality and after sales support etc. And this is one reason why counterfeiting is at bottom parasitic – because it trades upon the reputation of someone else’s goods and services. It offers no guarantee of quality or of after-sales service etc, and when a person has been hoodwinked by a counterfeiter and the product he has bought is scrap; it is the Brand name which was traded upon which tends to suffer in its reputation; and also the company who is the legitimate owner of the Brand name; irrational though this might seem?

The reason for a decline in a genuine reputation of a bona fide Brand and its company being caused by illicit traders trading upon the Brand’s repute; is the knock which is taken on the Trust in that Brand name, and to the almost complacent ready expectations one has, when one has been used to buying that Brand. Thus customers loyal to a Brand can suddenly be shaken by a bad experience with it and so no longer buy its products.

The scale of the shock and distrust escalates enormously for a person hoodwinked by products counterfeited such as medicines, and say, vehicle parts like brake shoes and tyres, because of the perceived major risks of harm which accompany taking a drug which is not approved nor bona fide; or the large risk experienced in having brake shoes or tyres fitted to one’s car when they are possibly substandard.

These considerations then, show some of the ways that trust is central to trading and to doing business.

Because we are destined to ‘live by the sweat of our brows’ we are constrained to do business so as to earn our livings.  This also means that we are compelled to have to trust others who come to us to do business with us, and also to trust those from whom we seek out business.  The default position for doing business then, necessarily has to be one of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and a prima facia openness of one’s approach to others, up to the point where that openness is no longer seen by us to be circumspect in regard to this person or that company, and so on.

There is much theology in this position in which we find ourselves, whereby we are compelled to trust in the first place; and to have to do so in a world which is often harsh and wherein many persons and groups are out for themselves without any social or moral qualifications on their relational behaviours.  We know the world is like this by reference to our own experiences; and that fortuitous remoteness of and anonymity for persons who use the Internet, make it a playground for those who thrive on catching out the unlucky; those who make some poor and regrettable decisions.  The web is brimming with scams and sharks and people who are simply of ill will or else hooked on schadenfreude.

Despite all this being the fact of the case; and despite us knowing full well that this is the fact of the case, we are compelled again and again when doing business via the Internet (and elsewhere) into and back upon that immovable default position of bona fide prima facie initial trusting of our newly met business associates.

And this is why old and returning customers and associates are so prized by us; because we know them and are able to assess any risks they might pose to us to a fairly exact extent. And now comes in a further paradox. For those who are ambitious in business old and returning customers and associates are never enough. Ambitious persons are always seeking new business and new business opportunities, which means necessarily meeting and doing more and more business with untested persons.

In addition it is the ambitious person who is most likely to be tempted to pick up a missed opportunity even when knowing it is to the cost of a competitor for him to do so; or else to be tempted to even less upright business practices as being convenient and expedient short cuts to wealth and position. (I discount from this generalisation the motivations of persons in dire straits or grasping at straws because they are say going insolvent, whose bad behaviour might be ameliorated by their obvious distress)

The paradox here is then that in the normal course of doing business it is the most ambitious who expose themselves to higher risk levels and are compelled to offer prima facie trust the most and most often; whereas the business person who is happy to earn and to live comfortably without great expectations exposes himself to less risk and is compelled to place less prima facie trust down than an ambitious person is compelled to. And so it is that the least trustworthy, the ambitious, are taught by experience that trust is an essential for them to be able to advance towards the orders of magnitude they desire.

Of course in here steps The Law; on the side of and in support of higher risk takers who meet with foul play against their businesses. The Law is then an arbiter of fair play which may be called into action by an aggrieved party in order for that party to attempt redress for what has been essentially an (alleged) breach of trust by an associate or client.  It is at bottom a breach of trust always; and it is always based upon the breach of the holy commandment: ‘Do as you would be done unto’.

John Milton:

‘Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden , till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse…..’

I quote Robert Burns also (back on the subject of Law):

‘Courts for cowards were erected

Churches built to please the priest

A fig for those by Law protected

Liberty’s a glorious feast!’

It is no co-incidence that ambitious persons and businesses are those who most frequently use the law and its courts so as to defend their positions against rivals and against swindlers and thieves.  Not only are they normally those who are most exposed to risks like these we are presently discussing; they as business entities present the best pickings for the scammer or for the counterfeiter, since – as we have pointed out elsewhere – the big guys and their companies go to extreme lengths to present a perfect and seamless front-end image and marketing regime to their multitudes of customers. Their Brands are thus considered some of the most stable, lucrative and sound in the world because of this window dressing of theirs; and damage when done to their Brands is some big bad news for them.

So the Law is from one angle a kind of backstop for the risk takers by it deterring and chastising those who would do to them ill for gain. The Law is the inferno one has to invoke and through which one must go so as to purge oneself by condemning one’s enemies to its raging fire.

Law in this case then is artificial and put in place to be evoked so as to take the place of trust whenever trust has been lost by a breach or by an abuse of business practice and of normative rules. But Trust in its pro tem prima facie default position remains the natural value by which day to day business is oiled and with which its engines run for the most part reasonably smoothly.

Trust and placing trust, especially in an unknown person or business and being under constraint to do so – this can be very stressful. The only solace at this time of initial contact when doing business is that the same stress applies equally – in almost Newtonian exactness – to the other side, to the other Party to the deal.  The curse of ‘the sweat of our brows’ then transpires to be a Godsend sent to us so as to bring us together – if not as undesigning amicable disinterested and extempore cordial strangers, then – and better than not at all – as persons looking after their mutual interests and in joint hopes for the sharing of benefits.

‘They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”

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Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement and Statistical Measurement

In regard to seizures of counterfeit products, a typical reported story in the news media, even in the trade media of the items of product concerned, let’s say cigarettes and tobacco, might read something like as follows:

The Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2 billion a year, and the sale of illicit alcohol which costs the UK around £1 billion per year.” (28 Jan 2015)
http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/customs-officers-seized-one-million-8533541

There is the old chestnut of an adage which assures us that there are : ‘lies; – damned lies – and statistics’; but do you ever wonder to yourself from whence originate assured assertions like these, usually alarming in their tenor, which emerge from the lockers of cargo within the minds of those who are termed by spokespersons as being ‘opinion formers’?

Now what I am able to tell you, and it is a veritable fact, is that figures like this item concerning the scale of counterfeit cigarettes smuggling in UK, are, for the most part, compiled and based upon ‘data’ taken from the streets of our major cities.

The UK cigarette manufacturing and marketing industry uses employees of its representative trade body to walk the streets of London, Birmingham, Glasgow, and to pick up cigarette packages which have been discarded by smokers in gutters. These packages are examined and segregated into a) counterfeit, b) duty not paid, and c) duty paid items, and it is from this kind of exercise that statistics like the HMRC guy bandied around arise.

Now this practice of the cigarette manufacturers is one of the better ones amongst those used in industry in general and on which are based statistical aggregations of magnitudes of counterfeiting and piracy. It has going for it one important thing – it is, albeit very broadly, empirically based and evidenced.

Of course one would never accept the calculation of one’s monthly salary based on such a schemata as this cigarette carton collecting entails, but as a very rough and ready ballpark it might just hold an iota of credibility for the tobacco industry? Although for the most part this guesstimate of theirs is on the cusp of acceptability for us simply because one asks oneself: what more is the industry able to do so as to guesstimate its losses? We soften and give them a few brownie points of empathy for their trying so earnestly.

Other industry sectors subject to counterfeiting and piracy almost always use evidence much less solid than the cigarette industry and quite frequently have zero empirical evidence on which to base their claims for scales of losses incurred. Local Government, National Governments and International Authorities all likewise, as often as they pronounce a figure or a percentage in the area of Intellectual Property fraud, are attempting ‘plucking geese out of the air’ – or might as well be.

This is why figures stated for the exact same scenario are very often in huge conflict with their colleagues’ and competitors’ figures in other countries or in other jurisdictions. It is likely, virtually certain, that if every EU nation was asked to give a figure estimate of say illicit ‘Brand X’ denim jeans imported into the EU in the course of a given year; there would be no satisfactory agreement between them. Their individual estimates would fluctuate wildly and merely act to muddy the waters still further rather than go anywhere towards solving the issue.

Why is this? Well, let’s keep it simple. Calculating a company’s money losses to counterfeiters is usually done by means of a concept called a ‘lost sale’. A lost sale in the abstract is the cost to a legitimate company of a consumer buying a counterfeit when the same consumer (had counterfeits not been available) would have had to have bought genuine. Hence the genuine manufacturer loses the price of one item of sale.

The problems begin when the abstract concept of the ‘lost sale’ begins to be applied to actual commercial day to day realities. Questions arise such as:

What is the genuine item’s price? In a free and open market such as the EU retailers are able to compete on prices and to undercut one another should they wish to; and they do. Furthermore identical genuine products are pitched at variant prices in different trading areas across the world. It is not uncommon that genuine items – say bankrupt stock – are offered heavily discounted to consumers. Discounts are also given for bulk buys and also to wholesalers. Many products have variant sets of accessories or bundles, and a like for like cost price is hard to ascertain.

Why use the genuine item’s price? A National Government statistician economically-speaking would be more interested in using the price the counterfeit item was being sold at perhaps?

There is a good argument broadly accepted in the music industry these days that, like mild inflation is desirable in an economy for it to thrive; so also a modicum of piracy and counterfeiting is conducive to greater genuine sales for the entertainment industries. The argument runs that people download free so as to ‘taste’ and if they like they will buy the genuine item thereafter.
In this last case it seems a ‘lost sale’ to the victim of piracy can represent in fact a plus money value sum!

But you will still hear the music companies and musicians beating up on the download and on the downloader, often sending out in the post to ‘culprits’ exorbitant compensation demands, and laying claim in the media to ruinous injuries. Companies on top of sales losses also lay claim to reputational and Brand status losses, and to damage to other intangibles. Music Collecting Societies likewise hit social clubs and old folks’ homes, church services and the gal who likes to listen to radio as she runs her market stall, criminalising them as nascent pirates and asking seriously wild fees for the privilege.

I grow so hot under the collar because there is a whole industry of half-baked statistical offerings which these rights holder guys promulgate and persist in. It is persisted in and promulgated precisely for this reason: to give a specious validity to their claims of grievous injury by the granny who plays The Beatles in her shop, or by the guy who likes to sing The Carpenters at the local karaoke.

One will note, this is a final flourish of mine, that always and without fail year on year, or at whatever period they are reckoned in, the statistical fictions bandied around increase in size and in monies lost to counterfeiters and pirates. They not only keep pace with inflation, they have an inflation bias of their very own. The industries themselves are in sole charge of, in control of, their own compilers of reports and reviews and of pseudo-statistical and other ‘calculations’. There is no balance.

The numbers are increased period on period because of two reasons, and two reasons only. One – to keep the pressures on legislators and the legal executive, which together with Parliamentary lobbying ensure, they believe, the best deals for the business environments of their industries.
And so they maintain a ‘siege mentality’ within all ‘right-thinking-people’ (excuse the pun)

Two – So as to put forward a sympathetic public face for stakeholders and rights owners, the songwriters and the musicians, the actors and the artists, the creatives, and so on; which helps to keep the public sweet towards them and so keep buying their saleables; since so much of the actual value due to them is ‘being lost’ to Intellectual Property theft. (Such incubated sympathy has generated a recent increase in copyright protection term in UK; now standing here at 90 years)

In the first book of The Republic, Thrasymachus attacks Socrates’ position that justice is an important good. He claims that ‘injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice’ . In the course of arguing for this conclusion, Thrasymachus makes three central claims about justice.

Justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger
Justice is obedience to laws
Justice is nothing but the advantage of another

Thrasymachus

This is the way the big Intellectual Property rights’ holder guys see things, is it not?

 

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Building a Trade Identity 2 – The Dream Factory

The epithet is customarily used as a descriptor for Hollywood and the US movie industry as a whole.  Hollywood is I guess the most apposite location and industry to be know by this label. However, inbetween the movie shows on TV and at the cinema are slotted the advertising shorts, which are money-spinners for the companies who broadcast or show movies.

The ads are little movies in miniature.  They can become narrative like movies are when a theme catches the public delight and the ad guys exploit it to the full. In the UK there have been narrative streams lasting over several years in Nescafe coffee ads, and another in Cadbury’s chocolate ads as well as several more to my memory.

Building a Trade Identity is a bit like building an advertising campaign, and as such, for it to be successful it has to carry the kernel of a dream inside it.  It has to be a dream which its target audiences buy into. It has to be a dream which has a nuance which no-one else in the industry sector has already been successful with.

For an ad campaign to take the public by storm with a narrative dream represents a campaign which perhaps the touchstone for success in the industry; likewise it takes a global superdream which becomes internalised emotionally by their consumers everywhere to carry an Apple or a Google corporation to colossal and continued hyper success.

The dream is always inseparable from the company and the company’s products.

A revealing way to look at this phenomenon is through the lense of one’s memories of being a child.  Of all stages of life, childhood is the most impressionable. In the first five years of life humans learn more than they do over the next seven or eight decades. We are like blotting paper absorbing learning almost magically at speeds which usually astonish first time parents.

One of the first tasks we seem to succeed in learning pretty well is that the world is our home and  our home is the house, the household, and the family. Almost like young geese we come very close to taking in psychological imprints that are so strong that they are almost indelibly set in our minds.  Nearly everyone is able to remember childhood, with some of its idyllic moments; almost like pagan Peter Pan and Wendy stuff.

The ad guys are aware of this near imprinting capacity on human young; and like the Jesuits they aim often to get the child early so as to be able to present to the world the adult person suitably adjusted. In this way household brands in particular, like those beef stock cubes mother always used to use; or the car manufacturer daddy favoured buying from, and so on, remain in the memory, one might say they form a part of the vestigial memory of a person.

Childhood then shows the powerful example of the potency of advertising on people; and Company Identity is able to work in many ways just like advertising works, and captivates one’s mind so as to build a nascent and almost irremovable impression of deep subliminal familial connectivity.

Such are the deepest strata of our unconscious tendencies; such is consumer loyalty. The message of the dream must be straightforward,not sophisticated; it must appeal to the child yet within us. Thus ads as well as the accompanying mythos of the Company Identity and its brands work together always to address consumers as if they were children. (Listen to the ads on TV next time you’re viewing; and note the tone of voice being used to speak to you; and the music used too is often another giveaway).

The dream’s appeal is to the self, is personal, and usually attempts to make you feel special – if you buy the product.  Likewise the accompanying Company Identity ambience will often appear to have a paternal aspect; it will provide for you, so it says, and has selected you out of all the possible persons it might have selected.  The products and services a company offers for sale are supported by carefully crafted claims which give the (often rather loose) impression that the company does not do second rate; (so you are second rate to ignore this fact), nor do its products disappoint.  It has no chinks in it armour; and is able to wheel out abundant accolades from thousands of super satisfied customers.

The specialness of the Company’s dream image will often be in the straplines and short catches it uses about itself. ‘Do no harm’ and ‘Making Motoring Magic’ and the like. There is a strong element of a childish ‘all in the garden is rosy’ which is showing the world through tinted glass, so that your life, one is inclined to believe, will go much more delightfully with this Company’s goods  and services: so buy.  This is the ‘feelgood’ factor promoting itself.

There are parodies on this approach to identifying your Company; a very old one from before World War 1 was:

‘I used your soap two years ago; and since then I have used no other’ (from a vagrant) – and

‘Nothing acts faster than Annadin’ (a headache remedy)

But nonetheless the amazing persuasive efficacy of the methodology, simple though it is, even obvious, remains; and effectively sways even the most smart and perspicacious among us. Like LIncoln’s adage:  ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time.’

The good news is that if it can work for others it can work for your company.  You will not have the huge resources which a large corporation has and pumps into its dream-image for consumers. You won’t have teams of employees seeking out and obviating negative feedback; or placing strategic good feedback; or else thinking up new ways to place and promote the basic message of the Company dream image.

Humans are an animals who like things simple. We like definitive solution answers.  Look at how most of us view our nations’ history.  Salem witch trials and McCarthy are clinically interesting items now distanced by time into objects of a cool curiosity.  Custer is almost a National Hero; as is John Wilkes Booth. The Spanish Armada was a great victory; Dunkirk was an almost Divine Providential rescue; King Charles I was a Royal Martyr. The truth is not so romantic, nor so easily categorised or communicable. So much easier is what we prefer to believe; we are myth making animals and that is what Company Identity is – a series of commercial urban mythology.

A great Anglo-American poet wrote, perhaps half-despondently, and half- pityingly;

‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’

A great Anglo-Irish poet wrote:

‘Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light;

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’

BUILDING A TRADE IDENTITY: 1 – Trade Identity and Trade Dress Outlined

This is an area in which all us small guys can take an object lesson from the Corporations.  The Corporations take TRADE IDENTITY to levels of a fine art form. Any one of them taken at random – go to a website now – and you will not see one hair out of place. Down to the last comma and final question-mark; all will be hunkydory.  And if not, should you spot a blip or a smutch, let them know and heads will roll in their Web  Marketing Teams.

For the likes of us and for the Big Boys the game is the same; pay minute attention to the fine detail so that in the aggregate the monolithic whole is a homogenous but organic presentation of the Company image, (involving and including its logos, stated mission and corporate vision).

Danny Devito as Maras Wilson’s father in the movie of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ (a movie by the way which surpasses the novel it is based on) sells secondhand cars and is an out and out crook.  But he makes good money at it – and he explains why he does:

I say appearance is 9/10 of the law. People don’t buy a car, they buy me – which is why personally I take such pride in my appearance. Well-oiled hair, clean shave, snappy suit.’

It is a commonplace in advertising circles to affirm that consumers often are not buying a product or a service so much as buying the ‘dream’ or the ‘lifestyle’ which the advertising of the product trades in and conjures in a typical buyer’s imagination.

Corporations carry this ‘dream factory’ image-making to the nth degree. They call it creating and nurturing a CORPORATE IDENTITY.  A CORPORATE IDENTITY done properly works inside the organisation every bit as effectively as it does outside it; on TVs and billboard hoardings and in showrooms.  The Company ‘line’ is sold to its employees as hard as it is promoted in the marketplace; although it may well be nuanced differently so as to incentivise and energise its workforce.

However, in this initial article on TRADE IDENTITY I want to trace quickly and on the surface the concepts of BRANDING and TRADE DRESS. These concepts are related to TRADE IDENTITY – they are two of its key components.

BRANDING is the Company logo usually incorporating a TRADE MARK or MARKS, which are able to be registered at government offices in most nations and trading blocs, so as to allow it monopoly protection in law against theft and unfair duplications of it.  BRANDING is considered by many BigWigs in industry and commerce to comprise the Chief Capital Asset of a Company or a Corporation.

Here below are the TOP TWELVE Brands for 2014 with their estimated $US billions valuations:

Each of the twelve logos is instantly recognisable to us; as if we were indoctrinated in their habit. And this is where the money is made from – by them being kept repeatedly in our minds like an imprint.

The grey apple with the bite out of it does not stand alone – behind it is a whole composite universe. Likewise for the Google mark and the Coke mark, and the others.  A major part of this composite universe is that the apple and the golden arches and the four-coloured square each signify very precisely what is being marketed by their companies. They are each, in the terms Trademark people use to describe Brand logos, Badges of Origin. They stand for a consistency of quality, and of technical specification, of functionality and appearance; and as a guarantee of aftersales and other as standard service packages.

The monolithic Trade Identities of the Companies (Corporations) behind these logos, and supporting the products and services they head-up, act as context and background in the same way as, say, a novel’s main narrative and plot subsists upon a fully built-up-with-detail world-picture sufficient to present to us, when read, as if a ‘real life’ experience.

The essence of Branding, of Trade Identity, and of Trade Dress, is consistency, self-consistency, so that everything which is capable of being duplicated exactly when placing the advertising, the marketing, the website and the paper goods, leaflets, hoardings, in whichever and every place they appear on public display – does never deviate nor contradict itself and is utterly word-perfect and conforms with itself.

The overarching aim in all this is to give an impression of perfection to their publics; leading on to an implicit assumption in our minds being suggested that these organisations do not make mistakes.

One might scoff and knowingly say – ah! of course they mess up, who are they kidding – but the power that resides in this meticulous, gigantic and even tyrannical effort to maintain a squeaky clean Trade Identity is not lost on the guys who demand this image of pristine purity from their huge marketing teams. They know well how we humans work – that we are suggestible and able to be awed and wowed and dazzled by so much conscious and deliberate intricate care and attention to detail

Our unconscious minds respond almost against our conscious wills in the ways the Boardrooms of the Corporations want them to.  We are very often prostrate before such an outright and demonstrative expression of power.  It is akin to standing at the foot of the Flatiron Building or in London The Shard, and being unable to help ourselves feeling their statements of ‘We are the Champions!’

Just a word about Trade Dress before this first article comes to a close.  When one buys a well-known popular Branded product there comes with it packaging. Often the packaging is elaborate and it is obvious that much time and some considerable effort and money has gone into presenting the product for sale in this way. There will be a colour scheme, an arrangement of designs and fonts and logos, shapes and angles, and endorsements and quality markers and star ratings and so on; all consistently identical on the whole Brand product run – it is the monolith in little.   Much of the Trade Dress – for this is what this rigmarole is – will tap into the general Trade Identity of the Company and its Brand(s) and reverberate against these, sending reminders and prompts to our passive receptive neurons, for synapses of association to occur to us.

Thus the power of the whole organisational entity is fed into and able to be released by each individual item of product.  Thus the importance of self-consistency in Trade Dress.

Like The Shard and the Flatiron Building, Corporate Identity and its monolithic homogeneity right down to the very finest last detail; are emblems of tyranny. They state openly and brashly where the money is; who the powerful are; what the strong are capable of.  We are like straw before them and we acquiesce as if to a Dagon or a Baal when the thunders and lightnings shake the firmament and we run to our caves for shelter.

That is how it is. Well, it is half the story, and the lesser half.  There is hope elsewhere.