Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brands Do Nothing

You often hear "brands have the power to change society" or "brands make life more meaningful" or "brands connect with consumer passions" or "brands are now more interactive with consumers".

But...that's crazy talk.

Brands are something, but they do nothing.

A brand is simply a collection of slogans, color schemes, logos, trademarks, identity demarcations, and emotional appeals to a targeted audience. A brand is what is applied to a product, or line of products, in hopes of attracting more attention, enhancing mental positioning, and increasing customer loyalty.

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. 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."

The brand provides no benefits to the customer. It's the product that solves a problem, meets a need. confers bragging rights (inflate the ego and impress peers), or enhances a lifestyle. The branding is just the whistles and bells that are added to the message about the product.

The Coca Cola brand does not help the customer. The Coca Cola brand helps Coca Cola generate interest in theoretically thirsty consumers. It's the actual Coca Cola product that quenches thirst, not the brand.

When an agency or consultant says they "do branding" for a company, it basically just means they integrate all the company's marketing efforts for consistency and relevance to the target audience.

As I've stated many times, the real "branding" of a product is what occurs when the value of the product is "burned" into the consciousness and memory of a customer when they use the product to solve a problem, meet a need, confer bragging rights (inflate the ego and impress peers), or enhance a lifestyle.

My definition is reinforced by this Wikipedia entry:

"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. It is defined by a perception, good or bad, that your customers or prospects have about you.

...People engaged in branding seek to develop or align the expectations behind the brand experience, creating the impression that a brand associated with a product or service has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique."

But a brand is just an aura surrounding a product and it may not be realistic, true, or genuine. It may be deceptive, contrived, or gimmicky.

A product has no intrinsic "personality". All it can do is appeal to and try to fit in with the personality and milieu of the customer who incorporates the product into their life.

There is no "sad soda pop" targeted to depressed people, for example. But the branding of a soda pop may try to make it look as though successful people who are happy and having fun tend to prefer Soda Pop X, and don't you want to join them? Then buy Soda Pop X.

Nobody wants to experience or interact with a brand. They want to identify with a product that symbolizes or represents certain qualities the customer wishes to have transferred to him, or that he really does have. The brand simply attempts to communicate those desirable qualities of the product, and that's all.

A brand does not sponsor a charity event. The company does. A brand does not engage in activism. The employees do. A brand does not engage in interactions with people on social media. The marketing department or intern or PR staff or product spokesperson or media consultant does.

Enough with all this silly talk. No more attributing magical powers to the abstract entity known as the brand.

If product sales are declining, or you want to reach new markets, don't work exclusively on the brand. Get to know what the customer needs, expectations, and interests are, modify or position the product as the solution, and then tweak the branding efforts.

But the connection must be made between the product reality and the customer reality.

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