You’re So Vain: The ‘Me, Me, Me’ POV—How to Avoid the Most Common Sin in Marketing


Technically, I guess vanity’s not a sin. It didn’t make the list of the seven deadliest, anyway. But the “look at me” vanity approach to messaging and copy is certainly one of the most common mistakes in marketing.

How many times have you seen a social media post with a look-at-me selfie and a headline like, “We just got our product on Amazon!” Or the equally meaningless line: “My book’s an Amazon best seller.” (For a five-hour period in a tiny, esoteric category.)

Who cares!

Many people would argue that’s what social media is good for, but the me, me, me, approach shows up everywhere in marketing. Usually, it’s more subtle than that.

The business owner or marketer isn’t flaunting anything, she just puts her point-of-view ahead of the audience’s point-of-view. Like that self-absorbed friend who always turns the conversation back to her.

Instead of focusing on what’s in it for the customer her messages are based on a whole long list of irrelevant facts — all found in a mirror. It’s an inside-the-bottle perspective that revolves around the features of her product or service, past business accomplishments, ego, and one-upping the competition.

The me, me, me P.O.V. is the polar opposite of the most basic premise of marketing: Figure out what a particular group of consumers really want, and give that to them.

You First. (You meaning the customer)

Not the other way around: You don’t figure out what you can do or make, and then put it out there hoping to find a market.

That’s a Me First P.O.V.

In 1960 Theodore Leavitt coined a term for this: Marketing myopia. In a famous Harvard Business Review article Levitt encouraged executives to shift their focus from an inward-facing orientation (me, me, me) to an outward facing consumer orientation. (What’s in it for you.) It was revolutionary thinking at the time and it sparked a 50-year boom in the market research industry.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to know what customers wanted!

Leavitt said that short-sighted executives who are suffering from that myopia will fail to see new opportunities and/or new threats. He cited the railroad industry as a good example.

After 100 years of unbridled growth the railroad barrons of the 1950’s took their eyes off the ball. They saw themselves only as train men, when in reality they were in the transportation business. The railroad guys never stopped to ask their industrial customers what they really wanted from a shipping company, and they failed to foresee the rise of air carriers as a legitimate competitor. Their strategy was limited only to the product they saw right in front of them; trains and train tracks.

Even the biggest, modern brands fall prey to myopia. There was a period of time in the mid 80’s when Nike lost its way and became too inwardly focused.

In his book “Shoe Dog” Phil Knight admitted that they were talking to themselves. Then Jim Riswold came up with “Just Do It” and Nike’s point of view changed dramatically. It was a seminal moment for that brand.

Scott Bedbury, Nike’s Director of Corporate Advertising at that time, wrote “Those three words simultaneously helped us widen and unify the brand. It was the essence of the brand personality, summed up in eight letters. The campaign transmitted a higher, more noble purpose.

“Just Do It” was not about sneakers. It was about values. It was not about products, it was about a brand ethos.”

This song is not about you. It’s about your customers. And more specifically, it’s about your customer’s journey and how they feel after they’ve worked with you or purchased your ground-breaking new product or service.

So here’s what you should do if you need to turn your current me, me, me P.O.V. into something much more relevant and compelling: Start with a realistic assessment of your strategy. If all your marketing tactics are me, me, me oriented, it’s probably a reflection of a poorly conceived marketing strategy.

For instance, many companies base their entire strategy on the goal of beating one main rival. So right from the start, the P.O.V. is inwardly focused on a market category or industry, not consumer focused.

Or the goal is to become the leading provider of whatever. “We’re number one!” That’s a market share goal, not a consumer solution goal. Not much empathy in that. If your strategy is myopic your ad copy probably will be as well. Strategy first, then tactics. Mercilessly edit the words you’re using.

Never underestimate the important of language in your brand P.O.V. Any sentence that starts with “our” or “we” or “I” is a dead giveaway that you’re in a Me First mode.

“Our best-in-class software solution” is a classic, inwardly focused cliché that should be deleted immediately. It’s conceited salesmen speak, and it’s probably not even true. There’s always some other software solution that’s packed with even more high-tech features than yours.

“We have a friendly, knowledgeable staff here to serve you” displays a P.O.V. that’s both self-centered and lazy. A knowledgeable staff is not a differentiator, it’s the table stakes of doing business in any category these days.

“We’re all about __.” Just fill in the blank and you’ll sound just like every other company in your category, and many others.

If you want your P.O.V. to stand out you have to avoid language like that. Like the plague. The language you use should be unique. Especially if your product or service isn’t. Carefully screen the images you’re showing.

You shouldn’t look like your competitors any more than you should sound like them.

For most business owners this is a tougher one to get a handle on. It’s a matter of visual aesthetics and the subtle connotations of images, colors and graphics. There’s an art to it. What you show is just as important as what you say. If all you ever show is your product, something’s wrong. And using stock images of that “friendly knowledgeable staff” is just as bad as using the cliché in your copy.

A lot of time should be spent developing the visual language for your brand. It’s a painstaking, never-ending effort. There are always interesting new ways to display your customer-focused P.O.V. Just as there are always interesting new ways to say what needs to be said. So enough about you. If you want to maximize your marketing efforts and avoid the sin of vanity, you’ll have to look outward. To what matters most.

John Furgurson is the owner of BN Branding – a words-first branding agency. He’s been helping business owners develop and articulate winning strategies since he was in high school. Connect on LinkedIn, or at


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