May 29, 2008

Everything You Need To Know About Branding On One Little Page

I’ve been accused of being brand illiterate, brand insensitive, brand averse, and otherwise ignorant of the power and meaning of brands.

I plead kinda not guilty.

My beef with the brand babblers is not about the importance of brands, but about how you build them.

To get some ammunition for my argument, I decided to do some research. I went to Amazon and I typed in the word branding. Up popped 29,777 results (think I'm kidding? Try it). Having only one life to live, I decided that it might be better not to be too ambitious in my research. So I clicked on the first book that looked terribly official and likely to produce just the kind of pompous baloney I love to make fun of. It was called Kellogg on Branding: The Marketing Faculty of the Kellogg School of Business.

I hit pay dirt. Right there in front of me I found this gem from the book:
The word brand has a tripartite etymology. One emphasis clusters around burning, with connotations both of fiery consummation and of banking the hearth. A second emphasis clusters around marking, with connotations of ownership and indelibility, as well as paradoxical allusions to intrinsic essence, whether of merit or stigma. A third emphasis clusters around the delivery of, or deliverance from, danger (stoke, anneal, cauterize; conflagration, possession, aggression). The brand embodies the transformative heat of passion, properly tended . . .

Yeah, whatever.

All this branding trouble started when the word brand became a verb. With the exception of Roy Rogers and John Wayne, everyone used it as a noun: “What brand did you buy?” “What’s the best brand of toilet tissue?” “I think we have a nice brand.”

Then it became a verb and all hell broke loose. “How are we going to brand this?” “This idea needs to be branded.” “Good job on the branding!” (Okay, technically 'branding' is a gerund, but a gerund is just a rotten trick to turn a verb into a noun.)

As soon as 'brand' became a verb, branding became an activity. And as soon as it became an activity it turned into an industry with lots of incompetent practitioners, half a million illiterate blogs, and 29,777 how-to books.

Well, TAC is here to save you a little reading and a lot of money. The idea that a strong brand can be created through branding is wrong.

Some things can only be achieved indirectly. You can’t be happy by trying to be happy. If you want to be happy you have to go fishing, or eat a pizza, or clean out your closet. And when someone tells me she’s “working on” her marriage, I’m pretty certain within a few weeks her house will be crawling with attorneys and real estate agents. You want to have a good marriage? Stop trying so hard. Go to Hawaii. Play Scrabble. Or even better, leave each other alone.

Sometimes, the more actively and directly you address a problem, the worse it gets. It’s the same in marketing. You want to have a strong brand? Quit branding. A strong brand is a by-product. It comes from doing a lot of other things right. For example:

1. Make sure you’re selling excellent products.
2. Make sure you’re taking good care of your customers.
3. Make sure your ads demonstrate how your product is different from, and better than, your competitors.

That’s what builds brands, and that’s all you need to know. The rest is chitchat.

The thousands of companies in America who think they’re going to be successful if they just get their 'brand' right are nuts. You’ve got to get a whole lot of other things right first. If you do, the brand will take care of itself. If you don’t, all the "branding" in the world won’t help.

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