The brand is dead! Long live the brand!

It’s been a while since I received articles or blogs on the discipline of brand management from the various feeds that continuously stream into my inbox or social media pages. Perhaps I am on the wrong networks? But then again, that can’t be because just a while ago, news on brand management ruled media space. Makes me wonder if the brand is dead.

There are many thoughts that swirl around my head.

The value in branding is history because it’s a commoditized world in too many categories.

It’s one big bazaar these days. Bargain hunters rule the shopping aisles and the e-commerce carts.

Then one day, my mind came to a grinding halt and switched tracks when the 4-year old in the family asked, “Where’s the logo?” This profound question was raised when he was shown a toy in the store as a possible purchase. Talk about out of the mouth of a babe. No, branding couldn’t possibly be dead if a 4-year old knew the value of possessing the right brand!

It all boils down to understanding how brands are built. The business of branding is often confused with the mere act of advertising. It never was and never will be. Advertising just mirrors what the brand already is – its uniqueness; its personality; and yes, its values. And a brand’s uniqueness usually stems from a breakthrough product that fulfils a real or latent consumer need (consider Apple, Google or Nike apps). Or the uniqueness of the experience (consider Amazon worldwide or Indigo airlines in India). The latter took a simple munchie snack such as cashew nuts, packaged it in an attractive utility tin box and branded it Nutcase! Not to mention the airline called the ladder steps to the aircraft ‘Stairway to heaven!’ Wow! I don my hat to the airline and its agency.  Every little step they took in the flight experience brought a smile to their passengers’ faces and lightened the whole journey up. And a brand got built that made the competition scramble to catch up.

Look at the world of luxury brands and there too, it is apparent that the value in brands is very much alive and kicking. Consumers are willing to pay a premium there for the real or perceived status conferred on their personas. Ever seen grown men practically cry as they drool over a Ferrari or Carrera car? Or people get into debt just so that they can be seen wearing a Rolex watch or sporting an Armani suit?

ION ORCHARD, the place to be for the young and trendy - by William Cho from Flickr under Creative Commons license
ION ORCHARD, the place to be for the young and trendy – by William Cho from Flickr under Creative Commons license

Why then has the hype over branding dried up? Wait a minute. Is it because it has been replaced by the hype over digital media, which is the latest rage all over town? Is it because product differentiation has disappeared in many industries? Is it because too much attention is paid to promotion driven marketing to meet volume targets? Or is it simply because all the hullabaloo over tech brands has overshadowed old world brands?

I came across this article by Susan Krashinsky in Global and Mail Update**. Krashinsky points out that since business and social interaction all happen more and more today through the medium of technology, it is hardly surprising that tech brands are considered by far the most influential. This statement is Krashinsky’s lead-in to her analysis of why Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook topped research firm Ipsos Reid’s annual list of the “Most Influential Brands” in Canada. The results pan out elsewhere too with tech brands dominating the Top 25 of the Forbes 2014 published list of ‘The World’s Most Valuable Brands.’

Technology rules these days. But stop and think for a minute. And you will find that tech brands rule because they are making a material and emotional difference to the lives of consumers. They are adding value. Look at it from that perspective and one realizes that the principles of brand building haven’t changed.

And some old world brands that have stuck to the core principles still see success. My two favourite examples are the WestJet Christmas Miracle brand experience and Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign. Both brands delivered a unique experience and message, tapping deep into the well of consumer emotions. And the result? Both campaigns were a big success – offline and online! By the way, WestJet has a track record of 38 consecutive quarters of reported profitability and Dove is the world’s top cleansing brand.

I am not sure if I am alone in this but I constantly get the impression that the digital world is seen as something quite apart from the world of brand building. But then again, perhaps I am not so alone. In an article titled Is Branding Dead***, D. Wendal Attig talks about hearing chants of “The Internet is eroding the opportunity to brand” and “Branding is dead as we knew it.” Amongst many strong arguments in favour of investing in branding, Attig points out that “Branding is the ability to create a relationship of meaningful value between the company and the customer–value that ultimately will result in preference for reasons beyond price…”. It’s the best definition of branding I have come across.

WestJet and Dove, too, rule for the same reason. And, as for our 4-year old? Why, he has a really deep and meaningful relationship with Lightning Mcqueen, the Transformers and Paw Patrol!

The brand is not dead. Long live the brand!




Featured Image Credit: Cattle, bearing a brand – Doc Searls ( CC BY 2.0)

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