Brian Creath

Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

People Don’t Read Anymore. (Except for you, right now.)

In Advertising, Communications, Marketing, Messaging, Positioning, Strategy on April 27, 2009 at 4:14 pm

baldcomputerguy

It has been a standard marketing axiom for the past two decades: People just don’t read anymore. Originally, this thinking was attached to the printed word, as in “people don’t read books, or newspapers anymore.” In recent years, however, it has become a more general indictment — one which has been used to justify everything from how much copy should be used in marketing materials to how much funding should go to education.

During his keynote speech at the Macworld 2008 Expo, Steve Jobs, discussing Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader said, “the fact is that people don’t read anymore.” He noted: “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”

Yes, research proves we spend less time with the printed page. Books and newspapers, especially. But here is where the generalization rings false: Many people (perhaps you) are actually reading MORE than before. While the web has changed what we read and how we read it, for many, it has also increased our appetite for information. And, with it, the amount of time we spend reading. (If I’m not mistaken, you’re reading this right now.)

A plea for reality: Marketers, it is time to stop generalizing that ‘people don’t read,’ and begin understanding that more people ‘do’ than ‘don’t.’ This is not meant to endorse our growing literature-averse population, nor defend an appalling drop in grammatical standards. It is simply to say that well-written words are still a powerful weapon and that there is still (and in some cases, a growing) audience for their readership. Of course, it helps if you actually have something to say.

Remember: people don’t read what’s in front of them; people read what interests them. The basic principles of context and relevance still apply as new trends emerge: Every post, text and ‘tweet’ simply give us the ability to be more immediate and more intimate.

Businesses take note: Not only do people still read, in many cases, they read more. Social media in all its forms have given new relevance to the written word. One could argue (and I am) that for many businesses, the written word has again become the most important marketing tool there is. If you’re still reading this, you just might agree.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

With Apologies To George Carlin (and the Earth).

In Advertising, Brand, Marketing, Positioning, Strategy on April 22, 2009 at 2:29 pm

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Well, now I’ve really done it. According to one reader of The Idea, my point-of-view is both against the principles of George Carlin and the sustainability of the Earth.

Commenting on my post “Brands Are Dead. (Really?),” Ruth Ann Barrett has written what she labels, “a Call to Arms about why branding may be considered just another word for covering up.” The same comment, she says, is also, “an ode to advocacy, to Earth, and Earth Day.” Yes, to Earth. Ms. Barrett also writes at a blog called Digital Savvy and you can find the above comment republished in a post entitled, “The Tainted Language of Branding.”

In her post, Ms. Barrett says, “What I think is that brand and branding were used in the service of so many unsustainable products and services with too many disreputable companies across a wide range of unsustainable industries that it may be viewed as a cover-up as a noun and covering up as a verb.” She also says, “The language of brands is rife with what the late George Carlin called a soft language and said, “I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality.”

Where is this language of brands that so masks reality? And which word is hiding the truth? In my work and in the work of my firm, truth and reality are the critical components of a brand’s foundation. The essential pieces that make a brand ring true. Anything less is not a brand, but simply a hollow promise.

Strangely, Ms. Barrett also twists sustainability into her argument against brands. (I believe she’s confusing product packaging with brand.) Ms. Barrett, if you’re advocating fewer disposables and more durability, I’m on your side. But please, don’t use the term ‘brand’ to make your case. It doesn’t deserve it.

Ms. Barrett closes with a plug for Jonathan Salem Baskin (see my posts regarding his points of view, here, here and here) and a call to not use the ‘tainted language of branding’ to save the Earth. “I think Mr. Baskin is being provocative and challenging the status quo. He’s getting attention and challenging us to meet the historic opportunity (to shape and encourage consumer demand for sustainable products and lifestyles) and steer the conversation towards how we are going to do that and not use the tainted language of branding. Let’s jump on it. Our scientists are telling us we are running out of time.”

Ms. Barrett, I am sure you are a passionate person, driven toward your cause. But c’mon: Brands don’t create problems. People create problems. Like the people that simply use brands to make a quick buck. Or hide behind them to abuse power. Or in this case, try to abolish their very being because they don’t acknowledge how good and valuable they can still be. Ms. Barrett, don’t you see? The very things you fight for can be accomplished with smart brand thinking — not in spite of it. Why would you throw away the learning of a hundred years, instead of working to harness its strength?

Here’s another George Carlin quote: “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”

Rest in peace, George. And to my friend the Earth, on your special day, may your reign be a long and prosperous one.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

Brands Are Not Dead. (The readers speak.)

In Brand, Marketing, Positioning, Strategy on April 21, 2009 at 1:43 pm

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We’ve had quite a spirited debate here during the past few days. If you are just joining this discussion, you may want to first read the two posts that sparked this dialog, “Brands Are Dead, (Really?)” and “Brands Are Dead. (Really?) Part 2.” While discussion on this topic is far from over, I did want to post an update on a few of the many comments I’ve received. (As reference, much of this conversation stems from the opposing view I have taken to Jonathan Salem Baskin, who wrote, “Branding Only Works On Cattle,” and argues in a recent post that “Brands Are Dead.”)

As your comments to my two earlier posts confirm, rumors of the demise of the brand have been greatly exaggerated.

“Brands are, of course, not dead,” comments John Bottom of the blog, Beyond. “They are useful labels to attach to otherwise apparently indistinguishable products and services. Most of us agree with Brian’s meaning; not many, I would suggest, side with Jonathan (Jonathan Salem Baskin). But then he is selling a book, whereas Brian is offering his excellent commentary for free. Perhaps that’s all you need to know.”

Writes Bret Kinsella, COO, “Brian has some great comments debunking the shock-literature of ‘Brands are Dead.’ The notion that branding is logos or tag lines or something that is unexplainable was discredited long ago. It is still about owning real estate in someone’s mind. Whether that real estate is well located or not is a question of the quality of branding efforts. It is important to influence that location and make the brand associations positive. Mr. Baskin needs to work on his real estate. He is on the wrong side of the tracks.”

And says Michael Kuhn, Communications Director, “I could have sworn that the new brand we created when we moved from an airline division (Air Canada Technical Services) to Aveos created a stir in the whole industry. Cattle you say? Not in the areospace industry I can assure you. Brand will continue to become the reason companies either succeed moderately or succeed phenomenally.”

In all, there have been 47 comments to these two posts–people have responded directly to The Idea, to its posting on several LinkedIn groups and to its inclusion on a number of other blogs and comment forums. All but three (3) have supported the point of view that brands are very much alive and well. As you may have expected, Mr. Baskin was a noted detractor.

But these ‘Brand Detractors’ exist for a reason. Brands have increasingly been the victim of undifferentiated positioning and shoddy advertising. They’ve been abused by senior managers who want their power, but refuse to invest in their future. They’ve been put at risk by those too inexperienced to leverage their real strengths, and worse, to manage their real weaknesses.

Brands have also suffered at the hands of charlatans. Yes, for every true brand expert, there are many more who aren’t. This doesn’t mean that brands aren’t important, or should be dismissed; it simply means that there are quite a few non-experts out there. You know: Ad agencies and design firms that slap ‘branding’ on their business cards to ride the wave. Authors and consultants that use ‘brand’ to their benefit, simply to make a buck.

No. It’s not time to call for the death of brands; but rather, to re-establish their true power. To look beyond the superficial era of ‘branding’ and into the intrinsic good that brands can provide: Where the experience of real value delivered creates a lasting pre-disposition based on the anticipated replication of that same positive experience. True brands help companies deliver consistent and sustainable value to grow their business. They also generate two-way trust that further bonds customers and producers. Consumers like true brands. So do smart companies.

The Idea welcomes additional comments from both supporters and detractors.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

Brands Are Dead. (Really?) Part Two, in an apparent series.

In Brand, Marketing, Positioning, Strategy on April 14, 2009 at 2:28 pm

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You may want to read my last post before you begin this one.

A short summation: Jonathan Salem Baskin, who wrote, “Branding Only Works On Cattle,” argues that “Brands Are Dead.” Says Baskin: “Nobody carries brands around in their heads. Nobody has a relationship with a brand. Or lives a brand lifestyle. Brands aren’t conversations, and they’re not bought, possessed, or coveted. Companies don’t own them. Neither do consumers or shareholders.” I, in turn, argue that far from dead, brands — true brands — are about to make a strong comeback.

Since then, Mr. Baskin has responded to my post. Here are just a few of his comments:

“Branding is the active, ongoing, real-time, reality give-and-take between producers and consumers. Very little of it relies on, or is the product of, the creative imaginations of branding folks, no matter how digitally brilliant they might be.”

How can one argue that brands are dead and then provide a treatise on branding? “Branding is the active, ongoing, real-time, reality give-and-take between producers and consumers?” No, Mr. Baskin, that’s called commerce. “Digitally brilliant?” That’s just weird.

But I do admire the all-or-nothing hyperbole: “Brands Are Dead.” I’ll give Mr. Baskin an A+ for shock value and a D+ for substance. Says he, “Don’t confuse recognition of logos or names with those artifacts possessing any established or lasting value. Brand is behavior, not thought or intent.” I didn’t know that I was arguing against these points, but now that you bring them up, you’re wrong. Again, this is not a consumer-only proposition — as you state yourself, there is a “give-and-take between producers and consumers.” For a customer, a true brand is an artificial proxy for the expected successful replication of a real experience; for prospective customers, a brand acts as the expectation for that same successful real experience. That’s what human beings do: they invent labels, words and visuals to describe experiences, feelings and thoughts. The dictionary is full of examples.

By the way, brand isn’t behavior — BEHAVIOR is behavior. It’s a perfectly good word to describe an understood concept. But I know, you can sell more books if you invent your own, confused terminology.

Mr. Baskin goes on, “Brian, thanks for your comments, and I encourage you to read my book. I think you’ve got things a bit backwards, and more than slightly out-of-touch with reality, but I understand why. After all, it’s tradition.” It’s tradition for me to get things backwards? Jonathan, I read your 693-word post “Brands Are Dead,” in which you twisted terms and confused issues to invent your point. And then summed your diatribe with: “I don’t presume to have the answer.” If this is digital brilliance, I want nothing to do with it. But as long as we’re trading offers, I would encourage your clients to engage my firm, Cohesion. (I’m quite sure they could use the guidance.)

My friend continues, “Brands ARE verbs, not nouns, and all of your static words describing the creative fantasies of the branding establishment — positioning, things that are ‘built,’ and that ‘stand’ for things — are the reverse of what’s true.” Really? “Brands ARE verbs, not nouns?” As in, “I McDonald-ed yesterday, how about you?” Yes, my static words could never hope to keep pace with Mr. Baskin’s fluid and connected argument. But who am I? A man with a creative fantasy; a simple soldier in the “branding establishment.”

But I do know this: You can’t brand a brand. You can position it. You can advertise it. You can publicize it. You can even promote it. But ‘brand’ is a noun, not a verb. It is the essence of a company, a product, a service — a shortcut path to all of the emotional and logical benefits a thing possesses.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

Hiding: Not A Brand Strategy.

In Advertising, Brand, Marketing, Strategy on April 7, 2009 at 2:13 pm

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Companies that have reduced, or eliminated marketing efforts as a way to ‘stop the world’ for a period of time, take notice: You are about to lose market share.

Brands, like businesses, do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in an open market — which today, is flush with new competitors, customers in transition and a brand new economic landscape. While no one can blame any company that took a deep, long breath during the past few months to revise and prioritize strategic direction, these same companies now need to be reminded that business is moving on — with or without them.

In a recent Ad Age article, Julie Roehm, a marketing consultant, says: “Stop hiding. No one ever got ahead by hiding themselves away. The same is true for brands. Now is the time to make a statement. Be bold, be present. It’s cheaper and just as many people are listening but far fewer are talking. The easy decision is to contract and hide yourself away hoping that if you as a company or marketer never lift your head up, it will never get lopped off. But if you never lift your head up, the consumer can’t see you. Be smart, try new things. In this economy, you can be noticed at a fraction of the cost and be rewarded for trying new mediums and new messages.”

In the same article, Anne Bologna, CEO of Toy, reminds us, “In the Great Depression, Kellogg continued to market its cereals while rivals cut budgets. Kellogg pulled ahead of Post in sales, a change that has never been reversed.”

Today, every company and every category, is different than it was before the recession began. The world has changed, and continues to change. Which means the company that simply sits back, waiting for all of this to ‘blow over’ before it resumes business-as-usual marketing and sales efforts, is in for a very rude awakening. Chances are, that company already has new competition ready and able to fill the void created by lagging marketing efforts. More challenging still, that company (and its brands) face a new reality in terms of customer relevance and meaning.

Positioning and marketing must address these issues, and they must be addressed, now.

Smarter, smaller, more value-driven companies are springing up everywhere…are you ready? Are your brands? Is your message? (By the way, if you need a bit of strategic assistance, I know a firm that can help.)

As I discussed in an earlier post, companies that plan today, increase their chances of winning tomorrow. Is your company planning to lead, or planning to follow?

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.