Read D.F.'s bio and previous columns


May 29, 2009

Proprietary Process, Eh? Trademark This!


My client was looking for a marketing firm, and he trusted me to find one for him. (Or, perhaps more accurately, he didn’t want to waste his time doing it himself, and was perfectly happy to waste mine.)


I thought I was looking for someone who could perform a service. What I actually got was a bizarre little trip into the world of ™.


Eight-year-old T.F. Krause, who is sitting across from me at Big Boy™, munching fries for breakfast while I write this, asked me if ™ stands for Tin Man, which is funny because as far as I know, he’s never watched or read The Wizard of Oz. (“I just made it up,” he explains. I can believe it.)


But no, ™ stands for trademark, and is distinct from a registered trademark, which is denoted by the symbol ®. If you want to put an ® after something, you have to fill out all these forms and follow all these rules. Not your sort of thing? Yeah, me neither.


But a ™ is different. You can slap a ™ at the end of anything, just because you feel like it. To borrow from a popular phrase, a grand jury could ™ a ham sandwich. And these days, if you own a marketing firm, it seems you are required by law, or trendiness, or something, to ™ the way you do things, which you must describe as your “proprietary process.”


This is how they show you that their process is really, really different. What you learn after you listen to 15 of these guys is that their processes are all really, really, the same – whether they believe it or not, which they don’t.


“D.F., let me tell you about the propriety process we’ve developed for delivering value to our clients,” says the first guy. “Why are you rolling your eyes? Anyway, it’s called MarketSmell™. What we do is we conduct extensive market research. No one else does this! Then, we follow our noses to the best strategy. Get it? Our noses! So we brand this highly proprietary process MarketSmell™! Brilliant, isn’t it?”


I ask the guy what happens if his nose is stuffed up or it’s allergy season, and what he thinks smells like a pony is actually, er, something else. He says he needs to go get a tissue, and never returns.


The next guy has something completely different. Completely.


“D.F., we have developed a proprietary process we call MarketWipe™,” he says. “I personally worked many months perfecting the details of this process. Or I jotted it down on a cocktail napkin one Friday night. I can’t remember which. But what we do is conduct very detailed, in-depth market research. No one else does this! Then, we wipe away all the misconceptions about how to market and brand your product or service, and deliver a strategy that’s mucus-free.”


I ask the guy where he got the little crusty stuff on his upper lip. He excuses himself to find a mirror. Moments later, I hear his Porsche speeding away.


But nothing tops the next guy. His process is called FYI8™.


“You probably think that means ‘for your information,’ don’t you, D.F.?”


Why he thought I would be so interested as to try to figure it out, I will never know.


“It actually means Foresight, Yoursight, Insight . . . to the eighth power. The eighth power!”




“Foresight,” he explains, “means that we do intense market research, so we know about our audience before we develop our strategy.”


“Let me guess,” I say. “No one else does that.”


“Ah,” he says, “I see you’ve been talking to our foresight-challenged competitors. That’s right. We’re the only ones. Yoursight represents your own perceptions of your brand and its positioning. No one else asks you this! And finally, insight represents our own expert brilliance about what to do, which reflects the highest possible budget we can justify – I mean, some really good ideas. Or something.”


I had heard enough. I decided to develop my own “proprietary process.” I call it T.F.’s Tin Man Tactics™. It combines research, insight, verifiable data, measurement and science. I have no idea what any of that means, but just like T.F., sitting across from me and munching his fries, I just made it up.


Just like everyone else.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # DFK189. Request permission to publish here.
Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Bob Franken
Lawrence J. Haas
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Bob Maistros
Rachel Marsden
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Jamie Weinstein
Brett Noel
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
Cindy Droog
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
D.F. Krause