[Originally posted on May 18, 2009]
“Brands Are Dead,” according to Jonathan Salem Baskin, who wrote, “Branding Only Works On Cattle.”
In a post from the blog, ‘Business Pundit,’ Mr. Baskin says, among other things, “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.”
Funny. As I drove from Walmart through McDonald’s to the Apple Store the other day, I could have sworn he was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a guy playing devil’s advocate to sell a few books; but c’mon, dead?
No, brands aren’t dead. Placing a unique label on something to: a) claim ownership over it, and b) differentiate it from similar items won’t die any time soon. But with any luck, the term branding will.
For the past 15 years or so, I have watched as marketing directors, CFOs, CEOs, ad agencies, design firms and others shifted from talking about brands in the abstract to branding in the specific. Branding was put into the hands of those who only saw (or perhaps understood) its tactical manifestations: colors, logos, taglines, ads, websites, etc. The more this happened, the more these surface items became a proxy for the brand itself. The terms ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ came to be used interchangeably. As this deterioration took place, ‘branding’ became synonymous with fluff. And rightly so. Problem is, this artificial concept of branding never had anything to do with what a true brand is in the first place.
As the economy grew, non-marketing people saw a quick buck in what they understood branding to be. “Gimme a logo and a tagline and a few cool ads and we’ll go sell some stuff.” With no hope of a differentiated position. With no intention of investing in one. That’s not a brand. That’s a house of cards.
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.
Says Mr. Baskin, “…brands are simply irrelevant in a world wherein people know that one airplane seat looks like another, different clothes and PCs are made in the same factories overseas, and that most companies expect customers to help themselves. Or when price and availability matter.” True brands carry an emotional appeal — something that Mr. Baskin’s argument does not. (He does know that human beings are involved here, doesn’t he?)
Interestingly, true brands — those built for the right reasons that stand for the right things — are on the verge of a major renaissance (but that’s a post to come).
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.