Branding straw men ~ Brand Mix

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Branding straw men

I get back from a hard day's branding work, have some dinner, play with the kids, put them to bed and then sit down in front of my computer to see what's new on the blog front. And there I find branding assaulted from all sides. Well, two sides:

"As I've said on other occasions, branding is something you do to cows. It makes sense if you're a rancher, since cows do tend to look alike. It's also useful to lots of businessmen, and they brand things like detergents or shoes for almost the same reason as ranchers. Branding is what you do when there's nothing original about your product."
That was Roy Disney at a shareholder's meeting in 2004, quoted yesterday by Derrick Daye as a "great moment in branding." It doesn't seem that great on the face of it. Then, there was this:
"Brand management was top down, internally focused, political and money based. It involved an MBA managing the brand, the ads, the shelf space, etc. The MBA argued with product development and manufacturing to get decent stuff, and with the CFO to get more cash to spend on ads.

Tribe management is a whole different way of looking at the world.

It starts with permission, the understanding that the real asset most organizations can build isn't an amorphous brand but is in fact the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them."
That was Seth Godin yesterday. Nice.

I think what we have going on here is some straw man arguments. That means defining branding as something that it's not and then dumping on it. Earlier in the same speech from Roy Disney, he said:

"I believe our mission has always been to be bringers of joy, to be affirmers of the good in each of us, to be -- in subtle ways -- teachers. To speak, as Walt once put it, "not to children but to the child in each of us."

But he didn't count that as branding. In a previous discussion between Seth and I about branding, Seth said:

"Yes, I agree that the way you act and the types of interactions you create are up to you, and you can choose to highlight the ones that fit together and
tell a story. So yes, if you want to call that branding, it's essential."

Well, Seth, yes I do. So, for the record, and for all brand managers out there, whether they have an MBA or not, here's my take on branding.

Branding is about finding something relevant and differentiated* to say about your brand to someone, or better, some enormous number of people. Great if you can find a sustainable competitive advantage based on your product but that's not the only way to differentiate. Other options that can work: Brand experience, market leadership, service, attitude...

Marketing is about telling people about your relevance and differentiation. Within the world of marketing, word of mouth/permission marketing is one tactic out of a range of other options that also includes traditional media (TV, print). Marketers must stay on top of new marketing programs to constantly try and assess what's going to work the best and the most efficiently for what they are trying to say. But they don't have to jump on any particular bandwagon before it makes sense for them to do so.

*Why relevance and differentiation? It makes intuitive sense that these things matter but there's also statistical support. Y&R has a global database of consumer perceptions of brands that now includes over 19,000 brands and over 350,000 consumers. It has shown that relevance and differentiation drive brand strength and that brand strength, in return, promotes strong earnings.

1) Great moments in branding: Roy Disney's Speech: Derrick Daye
2) Tribe management: Seth Godin
3) Earlier discussion between Seth and I on branding
4) Brand Asset Valuator: Y&R


BIG said...

As I've said in every post about Seth Godin...he's full of crap. He knows nothing of true branding. he makes up great names for branding tactics and people think he's a genious. Stop drinking the red cool-aid. Branding is and always will be the answer.

I'm not afraid to call this fake out.

Tom said...

"Branding is about finding something relevant and differentiated* to say about your brand to someone, or better, some enormous number of people." And right there is where I believe you may be missing Seth's point.

Instead of "saying something about yourself to an enormous number of people," successful branding (today and in the future) is about delivering something of value when, where and how ones audience desires it. It's about demonstrating your desire to help improve their lives, not pushing out more unwanted messages. See the difference?

Martin Bishop said...


I'm not talking about "unwanted messages." Branding is about finding what's wanted (relevant). It's not about how you choose to broadcast that relevance. That's marketing.

I do agree that how you can best reach people is changing and it's much more difficult than it used to be in the era of mass marketing.

But still, every strong brand needs to stand for something specific. And, if it's going to be a business, it needs to find as many people as possible to attract.

BIG said...

Exactly Martin, most people don't even know what branding is. You know the old saying right;

"I already have a logo"

Yup, that's branding for sure!

Tom said...

"Branding is about finding what's wanted (relevant)."

THAT I can agree with Martin. You first said that branding is about finding something to "say." There is a huge philosophical difference in those two statements.

Martin Bishop said...

Tom: Thanks for your follow-up comment. I think I was careless in how I expressed the idea the first time. A subtle but misleading difference between "finding something to say" (still maybe branding) and actually saying it (marketing).

Tom said...

Hey Martin, it is I who is being careless. :)

I'm not debating the discovery process; e.g. what makes our brand special, important, valuable, et al. I'm pushing back against the delivery process; "saying something."

I firmly believe that the next evolution in branding is moving beyond "communicating" uniqueness and relevance, to "demonstrating" uniqueness and relevance.

Talk is not only cheap today, it is increasingly tuned out by consumers, no matter how creative or relevant.

Trust is the key to brand success. And trust must be earned today, not simply communicated. Make sense?

Martin Bishop said...


Hey! It took us a few goes at it but now I think we're all lined up. Completely agree. The days of bamboozling are over.

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