James DeKoven
Writer & Content Strategist

Blog of marketing and branding ideas

Opinions, ideas and ramblings

What Rodney Dangerfield Teaches Us About Branding

“A girl phoned me the other day and said, ‘Come on over, there's nobody home.’ I went over. Nobody was home.” -- Rodney Dangerfield

When it comes to self-ridicule, no one was a harsher - and funnier  - critic than Rodney Dangerfield.

Dangerfield didn’t try cornering the market on laughter. Instead of trying to be all jokes to all people, he stuck to self-deprecating tales of disgrace, humiliation, and the worst bad luck imaginable.

Interestingly, he ended up doing exactly what branding is really meant to do: he created the perception that no one else could make the same offer. 

In his case, the offer was “I get no respect” jokes.

Sadly, Rodney’s not with us anymore, but his legacy teaches a valuable lesson for how a focused message leads to persuasive copy and more sales.

Narrow the Focus
Of course, you probably want to send a more positive and upbeat message than Dangerfield’s. The thing to emulate is his focus.

When developing your messaging, don’t try appealing to anyone who may possibly, maybe, perhaps, sometime in the near or distant future, require your products. 

Instead, write for your ideal client – the people who are familiar with your industry, recognize the benefits you offer, and see that you can solve their problems.

Assume that they have a certain level of appreciation and understanding, and use that level as the foundation for your messaging.

As your message gets leaner, you strengthen your appeal and become perceived as an expert. In turn, you’ll not just land more business, but you’ll get more of the right clients.

You might be saying, “My business applies to a lot of people. I’ll lose customers if I don’t speak to all of them.” That’s a common and justifiable fear. 

But with too broad of a message, people can’t as easily match their need with your solution.

Imagine, for example, if you’re craving a plate of Mongolian beef. You would never go to a restaurant that serves Chinese and Italian, right?

It’s not that the chef doesn’t have the culinary potential to whip up a mean Kung Poa chicken. He might. 

The problem is the perception of him not being an expert in what you need/want. And that weakens the chance that you’ll even walk in the door.

Say it Again. And Again. And Again.
Coke, McDonalds, BMW, and other multi-national corporations repeat the same message over and over. But it’s not necessarily exact words or phrases. What they consistently express are notions, or what we branding folks like to get all fancy about and call “brand values.”

Mercedes, for example, use the phrase “Engineered like no other car in the world”. The notion is “prestige”, and they convey prestige in every communication with the combo of images, typography, words, the cadence of the video, the elegance of the user experience.

Dangerfield didn’t always say, “I get no respect”, but all of his jokes expressed that idea.

Weave your focused message(s) throughout your site, social media, email, blogs and other communications. And do it over and over and over and…

Authenticity Equals Credibility
Dangerfield had great material, but it’s the honesty of the material that made his comedy so appealing. You have to appreciate a guy who makes fun of himself and also says, hey, it’s okay, go ahead and laugh at me.

 It’s this honesty that made Dangerfield credible, and credibility is the cornerstone of a persuasive message. 

Think about it. When someone’s authentic, you’re more willing to pay attention, actively listen, and take action – the desired 1-2-3 punch of any marketing effort.

Remember that you’re trying to communicate, not impress. Simple language doesn’t mean unprofessional or unsophisticated. It means clear, direct and authentic. After all, most of us can spot an exaggerated claim when we see one.

Focus your message with an authentic tone, and over time you’ll see a measurable increase in interest and leads. Do it for your business. If anything, do it for Rodney. It’s about time he got the respect he deserves.