Saturday, September 10, 2011

Truth about Brands and Branding

"Brands" as a term has slowly evolved into a clever euphemism for corporations, companies, businesses -- although it originally was meant to refer to a product line and the themes associated with it.


The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name."

A brand can take many forms, including a name, sign, symbol, color combination or slogan. The word branding began simply as a way to tell one person's cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. The word brand has continued to evolve to encompass identity — it affects the personality of a product, company or service.

-- Wikipedia "Brand"


Now "brand" is a word that dubious or malicious companies hide behind as they launch their exploitation machinery on a hapless public.

Marketing people speak of such silly things as "people engaging in conversations with our brand" and "brand interactions". But nobody is seeking to "interact with a brand". People seek solutions to problems -- and sincere companies who genuinely care about their customers and listen to them.

A "brand" is something they want you to trust and swear allegiance to. It started in full force when corporate logos became trendy on clothing back in the 1980s, so that dumb consumers thought it was hip to be unpaid, walking advertisements for Nike, Coca Cola, Apple, Calvin Klein, etc. I think of such people as "brand zombies".

A "brand" is a second level abstraction, an artificially construed personality or aura that is strategically imposed upon a product or product line. Branding is not generally derived from any true benefit or characteristic of a product, but is invented by an advertising agency. It is fundamentally synonymous with "positioning".

You need to define a product and differentiate it from competitors, so you proclaim your product to be "the choice of the younger generation" (Pepsi) or "what the rich elites all use" (Rolex) or "the must-have item for a true geek" (iPhone).

The word "brand" thus acts as a cloaking device, to soothe and pacify critique, and make the public feel good. It often refers primarily to the colors, design artifacts, messaging, and feelings that they hope are invigorated within a customer as they shell out their hard earned money for miscellaneous crap.

A "brand" is thus an image, a concept that ad agencies hope to wrap a product in, so that people get excited about the product, because of the hype and status associated with the product, and not necessarily on any true assessment of the worth or value of the product.

The true definition of "branding" is "that mental impression that is burned into the consciousness of a customer as they use a product to solve a problem or enhance a lifestyle."

No matter what "branding" campaign and slogans the ad agencies sling around, the mark that is "branded" on the hide of the consumer's mind is the only thing that really matters. And this authentic branding or mental positioning is not under the control of any ad agency, as it happens independently, in real life situations of product usage.

This is why it is vital to probe the minds of customers and discover what they think about a product.

You should consider using their ideas about the product, even their exact words, in your marketing, what actual users appreciate about it, rather than trying to impose some random idea upon the product, which may not be intrinsic to the product or the way users feel about it.

A contrived aura for a product can collapse from the sheer weight of its falseness, leaving you with disappointed customers and negative word of mouth advertising.

A good example of this is "brand Obama", which many former supporters are becoming disgruntled with, compelling them to seek a new brand to replace it. Other brands that are in trouble recently, for various reasons, include Yahoo, Readers Digest, NPR, Sara Lee, Frontier Airlines, Michelob, Milwaukee's Best, Facebook, T-Mobile, RadioShack, Office Depot, E*Trade, Gateway, and AOL.


Forbes "The Trouble With My Brand is Me"

Yahoo Finance "10 Brands That May Disappear in 2011"

Daily Finance "10 American Companies That May Disappear in 2011"

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