Ok. If you want to really get me wound up, just start talking about brands and branding.
It seems every time I read something about marketing, sales, advertising or public relations (heck, nowadays people, organizations, products, interviewing, everyday life ) I am confronted with the word “brand” (brand, branded, branding, br-whatever).
Drives me nuts.
Ok. More than nuts. I cannot tell you how many times people confuse the concept of a brand with product, name, service, advertising or marketing (just to name a few).
Oh. About “name.” Yeah. Name. It seems just because someone has decided to call their product or service something (let’s call it a ‘label’ or, better, how about “Jake” as a code word) they immediately start calling it a brand <insert an ‘aaargh’ here with multiple exclamation points>.
Sometimes it seems there is no understanding of the word, the process, or the original intent behind the concept of ‘brand’. I would like to think it is an indication of the invasion of amateurs (or the apocalypse because I keep looking for those signs) into the marketing industry, but, alas, it is not so.
Even some of the sharpest minds in the marketing world have fallen into the brand buzzword trap in an attempt to simply stay even with the less knowledgeable.
Ok. Maybe it is just me, but what I just typed seems a sign of insanity — where the brightest have to play by the rules of the ignorant to be heard. It’s the kind of stuff that really does drive me nuts <and one would think others>. The “b word” is tossed around so carelessly it has diminished and degraded its value.
Brand is an important little word. For those of us who have spent significant portions of our lives taking innovative products and service and guiding them into a position where they could even qualify to be considered a brand by the finicky user world the misuse and distortion of this little B word undermines us and our abilities.
In the end … it diminishes our expertise.
So. I dug up a dictionary (not Wikipedia) which says branding is: the promoting of a product or service by identifying it with a particular brand.
Ok. That helps me understand part of the issue. How is that a definition? Its circular meaningless gobbledygook.
Therefore I will set everyone straight and give a Bruce definition <kind of>.
Brands and branding. Here you go. Not a definition. A logic flow:
- A product or service that offers something distinct as a benefit.
- It has a “Jake.” (Remember: That is code for a label or name)
- Someone buys it.
- More someones buy it.
- The original someones come back and buy more.
- Jake starts getting known for that distinct thing (or whatever reason the someones associate with buying Jake)…
- Jake is becoming a brand.
Over time, Jake has assumed some character the someones have gotten attached to (trust, reliability, strength, etc.) and, well, Jake is a brand.
So. In reality a brand isn’t really a brand until it exists in some way within the hearts and minds of consumers.
By the way <part 1>. Jake can become a brand without advertising or extensive marketing (there are some nice examples of that) as long as enough people ‘interact with/buy from’ what the company offers day in & day out.
By the way <part 2>. If you have a consistently good product/service, becoming a brand is inevitable (or we would face a world of generic products and services with limited selection and little motive for innovation).
The key … the underlying ‘thing’ I am trying to point out … is that this ‘brand’ has been built upon some piece of information or usefulness (functional value) grounded in some company consistency (culture/values/attitude). At some point early on people were educated about something to do with that particular product or service until ultimately the relationship reverses – the brand stands for that education communicated rather than the product or service. The good news? It is a proven fact consumers will pay a premium for a product or service where someones call ‘Jake’ a brand.
It starts with a good product and elevates that product to the status of “brand” by making the consumer aware of product benefits, forming perceptions to wrap around the product (some positive and some negative), and stimulating trial, repurchase and ongoing purchases. In the end that true value is the brand.
The Myth of Building Brands
Let me start simply.
A great brand is a great product or service that people have developed a strong emotional connection with.
Hmmmmmmmmm … that said … it seems like we should be writing less books about “brands” and “branding” and instead investing energy in writing books about building sustainable products and services <just a thought>.
Here is a marketing truth. You don’t build a brand <that is the Myth>. You build a meaningful product or service <or a company that creates those types of things>.
Oh. And contrary to the dictionary definition of the word brand, putting a label (or a Jake) on a product does not make it a brand (but it helps to give it a Jake rather than simply say “pork rinds”).
Oh. Creating a website or running an ad doesn’t do it either.
A product only becomes a brand when the consumer/users (the someones) say so. When they associate a benefit and a set of values (that combination is key). Not until then. The process of ‘branding’ (and I hate that phrase but I assume it is a marketing campaign or activity which highlights what makes Jake a brand) is typically a complex, lengthy, sometimes expensive process. But. It sure would be a boatload easier to simply avoid saying “branding” and call it “building a marketing plan for Jake.”
<Oh. And why do I have to say the intent is to attain brand status…because…when isn’t that the intent or objective? … oh … silly me>
Last thought. Please recognize that judging brands “in generation” is tough.
We are far too quick to call something a brand. I would suggest the true test of a brand is if it can cross generations. Until that time, maybe it is simply a ‘generational brand’ or at its worst simply a ‘fad.’ Many companies-brands do ‘get it’ and are doing the right things – for now that is. Crossing generations is about stewardship. Does the transition to new leaders (the next steward) mean losing focus (meaningless reinvention) or guiding to the next level of relevance (and maintain the brand status)?
In the end.
Great brands are inevitably companies that maintain operational excellence by delivering superior <or just distinct> products meeting expectations day in and day out … and having employees that embrace the vision day in and day out. Operational excellence and centered employees. Everything else falls apart <sales and marketing and culture … even your desired ‘brand’> if that core isn’t solid.
Wavering operationally creates cracks that have seismic effects externally. And, ultimately, when that wavering occurs it becomes a prime example of a “failed brand” <or a ‘dead Jake’ in Bruce terms>.
A lot of bad thinking is being shared under the guise of ‘branding’ these days. My advice is to worry less about ‘brand’ and more about consistently delivering a great product/service wrapped up in some personality day in and day out.
Originally posted February 2010