What if we did away with the brand model? ~ Brand Mix

Monday, December 1, 2008

What if we did away with the brand model?

In the 11.01 edition of Marketing News, Kevin O'Donnell laments what he perceives to be a branding backlash. "Was there ever a concept that was so misunderstood?" he asks. He challenges those that would criticize brand by saying: "Rail all you want. But brand is a fact of life."

That sounds like a challenge. What if brand was not a fact of life? What if we were all to collectively agree not to use the words: "brand" and "branding" ever again? We could do all the same things we've always done (or failed to do), just not use the words. How bad would that be?

Let's start with the activity of branding. What would our options be? Perhaps we could fold all "branding" activities under the general title of marketing using sub-categories like positioning, design and innovation where necessary. Maybe we'd have a new activity called experience delivery or experience management to make sure that what sometimes used to be called the brand promise gets translated into appropriate action.

How about brand itself? It seems like no-one can agree on a definition anyway so anything we come up with here might be an improvement. It should have something to do with consumer perception, something to do with expectations and ideally connect with the names and logos that represent this thing that shall no longer be named. Any ideas?

The point is that brand is a construct, a model that serves or ought to serve a purpose. Brands don't exist in the real world and it's not absolutely mandatory that we keep using the model. If the model doesn't work, we should replace it. If we brand practitioners can't agree on a basic definition and confuse ourselves and our clients maybe we need a new approach.

My vote though is to keep it. I don't want to change my business card and the name of my blog for one thing. But apart from that, we know (with empirical certainty(1)) that brand strength is closely tied to consumer ratings of relevance and differentiation. This gives us a way to measure success and a way to figure out what we should be doing.

So let's keep brand alive for now. But let's keep tabs on the situation. If it looks like we are all collectively wasting too much time arguing about definitions and not using this model to deliver effective business activity perhaps we will have to pull the plug. Or do you have a different perspective?

1) How do we know that relevance and differentiation are the critical measures? We have great data from BrandAsset Valuator® (BAV) to support this. BAV is a global database of consumer perceptions about brands. It has plotted data against revenue growth, margin, NOPAT and economic value added (EVA) over a ten year period. Its consistent results show that:
a) Differentiation is the margin driver - brands that grow differentiation have about a 50% higher operating margin on average than those which allow differentiation to decline.
b) Relevance is the key to market penetration. Those brands that grow both their Differentiation and Relevance report the greatest increase in operating earnings.The relationships between these measures reveal the true picture of a brand's health: its intrinsic value, its capacity to carry a premium price and its ability to fend off competitors.

2) For a comprehensive visual map of brand and its relationship to experience, logos, take a look at this chart from Dubberly Design Office. It even includes a bit of semiotics for those with that inclination.

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