Friday, July 22, 2011

Your Brand Is Failing. Here's Why.


Like a lot of other people, I spend a lot of time thinking about branding and I admire when organizations do it well.

However, at the same time I notice that much discussion around brands and branding remains at the kindergarten level. For example, we're still asking "what is a brand?" And we can't agree on the answer! Even among professionals! For example, a recent discussion among brand-ers on LinkedIn, where we were asked to define the word, yielded almost 500 (!) comments.

And we have other conversations of a similar nature. My favorites are "what is branding vs. marketing?" and "what is brand vs. reputation?"

You can say what you want about marketers - that we're lying, greedy bastards - and I'll give you that some of us are. You can also say that we're stupid. Also, sometimes, granted. But there is enough mental firepower at work in the profession that it makes no sense that we cannot even define our basic terms of art. Every scientist knows "what is an atom?" and every psychologist knows "what is emotion?" and every historian knows "what is history?" Yet we still go round and round.

Which should tell you that on some level we still don't know what we're talking about. Although it is true that well-branded products and services enjoy a price premium, the alchemists who create them haven't been able to systematize the formula. There are many useful attempts - no need to list all the books here, but they are easily findable on Amazon - but the profession remains relatively backward still.

The reality is, the most successful brands did not start out with the intention of building great brands per se. Rather, they were trying to achieve something else. A HUMANISTIC mission. They were trying to do something important TO PEOPLE and they built organizations completely centered on the achievement of that goal:

* Google is about helping people find information.

* Apple is about making life simpler in a complicated world.

* Starbucks is about helping people escape the pressures of home and work.

* Amazon is about making the customer feel safe to buy whatever they want, online.

* Nike is about celebrating high achievers.

We eagerly invite these brands into our lives because they speak to us as people. We give them money and they give us something back that we feel is worthwhile. It is a win-win.

However, most organizations are not at the level of Google, Apple, Starbucks, Amazon and Nike.

So how do we get there? I propose that the marketing function needs to shift radically in three fundamental ways that align with the secret ingredient to brand success: MAKING PEOPLE HAPPY.

1. Audience-based structure: Right now professional communications is functionally siloed: PR, advertising, marcom, media relations, exhibit media, multimedia, social media, etc. Instead, divide communicators into groups based on audience segments. If it's about relationships, set yourself up to build relationships, with the right people, working as a team. Every segment gets a specialized group reaching it across all communication vehicles. Integration, integration, integration.

2. Education and training: We focus narrowly on mechanical skills rather than higher-level and relational thinking. We need psychologists, organizational development specialists, sociologists, and critical thinkers in marketing - not only MBAs and code writers. And the education should be broadly based, with input from many sources and many disciplines. That is what produces people who think holistically.

3. Values: We take it for granted that success means "I win you lose." Instead we ought to insist that the employee and the customer are left with more than what they started with, as a result of dealing with us. Not just because we'll make more money that way and for a longer period of time. But because we understand that there is a higher power who ultimately decides what happens. If you don't like the concept of G-d, try karma.

The last point here, one worth pulling out because it unfortunately doesn't get said enough, is that one's employees have to be well taken care of because they are the #1 source of brand value in any organization. Without employees you have only machines. And even machines need people to run them and make decisions about how they are used.

Looking at this list it seems very simple...but in practice it would be a very huge shift. I wonder if we are ready. I hope that we will at least think about it.

Have a good day, and good luck!

___

Image source here.

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