Help define the buzzword marketers love (and I hate)

Branding iron

Each January, Interbrand shares its Best Global Brands 2007 report. They’ve been doing it for years, and they do a nice job of it.

Back in 2002 we wrote an article for the Friends of Outsource Marketing entitled “The buzzword marketers love…and we hate.” Yes, the word I hated then was “branding.” I still do.

Not because of what branding is…the intention of branding is spot on. A powerful brand creates a mental shortcut that helps break through the clutter.

So, what’s our beef? Here’s what we said then:

Our problem is that people use “branding” to refer to such a wide variety of concepts and activities. It used to be a terrific-looking word. But it’s slept around so much lately, we’re not in love with it anymore.

Why is this a problem? Because many businesses have decided that better “branding” is the solution to their marketing problems. But what exactly are they thinking? A better logo? A stronger point of difference? A more integrated communications effort?

We couldn’t summon the word-police then and we can’t do it now. But we can ask you, Responsible Marketer–

[poll=3]

Thank you for voting. Now, let’s see if things have gotten a little clearer in the last six years.

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • José Augusto says:

    To me the brand of anything is this . The image that the some of everything that the criators , the tecnicians , and the all people that made the produt want’s that it is . If the clients or the people in general like or hate is another thing . That’s why there are good and bad produts . And in the majority of the situations , the “bad produt” isn’t bad , they only have bad or poor publicity , or the image is wrong created . ( sorry my english ) .

  • Hi Patrick,

    The closest option above to my view of what “branding is”, is the following:

    “Branding is the name, graphic identity and communications (of every type) that together seek to convey a desirable image of a product or service.”

    However, I think that it can be said much simpler. I believe that the goal of branding is simply to associate your company (which can be You, Inc. if it’s not a formal company) or a specific product/service you or your company offers with a type of product or service.

    Let me explain.

    When someone needs to blow their nose, many people will say, “Do you have kleenex?” When someone wants to ask you if you searched for it on the Web and they say, “Did you google it?” These are just two examples where a company has branded their company (Google) or product (Kleenex) to the point where their specific company name or product is used as the proper name for a broad reference to a product or service. It’s not kleenex, it’s tissue. It’s not “googling” it’s “searching”.

    Now the above examples are the “end-goals” people have in mind when they use the word “branding”. However, it doesn’t have to be to the extent that people refer to having blogged by saying, “I patrick-byered today.” The goal of branding is simply to have your company, a product or service your company offers or You, Inc. for that matter associated with a particular “type” of product or service.

    So long as someone is looking for an expert in blogging thinks of Patrick Byers, you’ve successfully branded yourself to that product. They don’t have to go so far as to name the “act of blogging” after you. 😉 But if that happens, I’m sure you wouldn’t complain about it.

    Just my 2-cents.

  • Patrick,

    The simple definition I have used for the term “brand” is this: A brand is a “story” about you and what makes you unique.

    In his book Branded Nation, Professor James Twitchell says companies install stories to maximize their profits. He uses bottled water as an example. He says of consumers, “We want the story. The story retails for $1.49; the water is free.”

    With stories companies can help people form emotional attachments to products and services. This helps people assign meaning to the things they buy. Companies do this to drive consumer preference and market share.

    That’s my two cents, anyway. Thanks again for the opportunity.

    Mike

  • Harrison Rose says:

    Branding is not Brand. Branding is the process of creating, building or exploiting a brand. The only process listed is the correct one as far as semantics are concerned. However, the two that have so far received the most votes are definitions of Brand, the outcome of the process.

    Lexicon and language use are very important when framing a discussion. After all, what is “marketing”? Is it the identity of a marketplace or is it the process of reaching a marketplace?

    My thoughts for you,
    Harrison

  • Richard says:

    I voted “None of the above” only because of 1 simple reason. I’m not a marketer and wouldn’t know. I could guess “I guess” but that doesn’t help me as a small business owner right? My thoughts on Branding, marketing, advertising are not positive. Oh, I’m a very positive and upbeat leader as I love being an entrepreneur and knowing the basics of all things small business… however for me to go from knowing the basics and break out into a really successful business – I need the consultation of experts in that niche field of brand name recognition and marketing. As a bootstrapped operation… I’m looking for that expert to prove their case and use me as a pro-bono type of Success Story. Any takers?

    Best of luck and great blog by the way,
    Richard

  • Dan Murphy says:

    There are more several definitions of branding that all approach pieces of what “branding” and a “brand” mean to marketers, to customers and to the public. I align most closely with the idea that a brand is ultimately a shorthand symbol that triggers an emotional connection with the product, the company, the user’s experience — or all three.

    Put it his way: When a brand “works,” we feel a strong, positive attachment to a whole set of feelings, beliefs and values the inform that brand. In that case, we praise the company and laud the product.

    When branding doesn’t work, we recognize it as a mercenary attempt to hijack feelings that don’t exist for the primary purpose of generating a profit. In that case, we condemn it and complain that “It’s all just marketing.”

    In other words, good branding transcends marketing. Bad branding tarnishes everything even good marketers do.

  • I agree with you, sometimes this branding stuff makes me think of a town in Italy, Bologna.

    To answer your question, “How does this branding thing work when you are a small business?” Let me offer you this:

    It all boils down to your reputation. That’s the thing people want to buy from you. “Can you consistently deliver the outcome they want?” If so, that’s your brand. Your job is to be clear on what that thing is. What problem are you solving? Why is your solution special? How will solving the problem with your solution make people feel? What is it that will cause people to seek out that feeling over and over again?

    Figure this stuff out and you can be assured that people will want your aspirin when they get headaches, your shampoo when they want clean hair, and your steak when they want sizzle.

    I hope this helps you in your endeavor.

    Mike

  • No matter how good the logo, slogan, store colors, etc., it won’t overcome negative customer experience. And no matter how inconsistent the traditional branding elements, supreme customer experience will trump the confusion. Thus, I voted for the perception idea.

    I explore this in some detail, BTW, in my award-winning sixth book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First

  • Dan Kennedy says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Best definition of a brand I’ve come across is that it is a product, organization or person’s reputation. Branding, then, is putting a label on that reputation.

    Dan

  • Peter Weinstein says:

    For me “Brand equals Trust” and all the ramifications thereof. Brand can generate both positive and negative emotions (think about how Apple users react to Microsoft products). If a consumer has a negative perception of a brand does that mean the brand does not exist? (If a tree falls in the forest….)

    I don’t believe branding generates revenue, but it is the necessary component to allow consumers to make appropriate, emotionally driven, buying decisions.

    Patrick, ever thought about developing a category called “responsible branding” ? I’m sure you would find hundreds, if not thousands of products and services that have over promised and under delivered thereby diluting the consumers trust. The brand may still be valid and valuable…but the perception of the brand has been tarnished.

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