Doc Searles, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and I have been exchanging thoughts about brands, branding and reputation over on his blog Doc Searls Weblog. (Gotta love the fact that he calls his site a weblog, testament to how long he’s been around.)
Anyway, Doc had a pretty opinionated post about how “branding has jumped the shark,” declaring that….
“saying stuff may get more attention than doing stuff, at least in the short run. But doing stuff is what makes the world work.”
No arguments there. But I sort of disagreed with Doc when he insisted…
“brands are nothing but statements. At best they are a well-known and trusted badge, name or both.”
I believe that a brand is the essence of what of what it promises and delivers. It’s not a logo, or a trademark — and definitely not its advertising — despite the claims of brand identity companies and even some ad agencies. Your perception of a brand may be informed by ads, along with recommendations from friends, or interactions with a company’s employees, but the only thing that truly matters is the real-life experience you actually have with the company or its products.
Think of how many brands you know that hardly do any advertising. Starbucks, and Wholefoods, for example, or until recently, Zappos. In every case, what you think about those companies has less to do with their “branding” and more to do with the personal involvement you’ve had with them.
I suppose in some ways, Doc and I are in agreement: messages don’t matter; actions do.
So if you’re in the business of “branding,” it’s more important that you work to influence, or at least accurately reflect, a brand’s behavior. And just hope you’re not on the BP account.
Here’s the back and forth Doc and I shared.
My initial response to Reputation vs Branding
WTF is branding? That’s a dumb word that simply means taking a brand, its beliefs, what it stands for and its consistent behavior (all adding up to the promise of a brand) and giving it a “message.” It’s messages that have jumped the shark and branding = creating messages.
What you really mean to argue is that false messages or contrived messages — think BP’s Beyond Petroleum — have jumped the shark. That is what you call branding. And in an age when the manufacturer, publisher, broadcaster and programmer have lost power to the consumer, reader, viewer and user, it’s obvious that the power of controlled messages (what you call branding) has lost its impact. That’s nothing new.
Brands, on the other hand, are alive and well. A “brand” has always been its ultimate promise; and what you, a consumer, believe that promise to be. In many ways, that’s the exact same thing as reputation, as a reputation is earned through behavior.
Doc Searles’s Reply
I did not mean to argue that false or contrived messages have jumped the shark. They have not, and probably never will. I did mean to argue that “branding” as a marketing buzzword has jumped the shark, in the sense that it has been carried by its buzzers far from both its original meaning and the one to which its defenders hope to restore it (by calling it, for example, a “promise”).
Differences matter. Distinctions matter. A brand may be a “promise,” but a reputation is not.
My second comment
We may be saying the same thing and using different semantics. I am arguing that there is a difference between “branding,” the act of trying to define a brand, and “brand,” which is essentially what the brand *is* and *does* and delivers as an actual promise, not a stated one. Nike’s reputation is for good athletic shoes. Nike’s brand is about encouraging individual performance. That is its promise, delivered through its product, consistent behavior, etc.
Coke’s product is a sugary softdrink. Its brand is happiness, delivered through the way in which its product is used and the occasions associated with it.
BP’s product was oil exploration and oil. Right now its brand is environmental destruction. Recently its branding has been Beyond Petroleum. If we follow your argument, it suggests that such “branding” efforts are futile. But brand, not always the same as product, will always exist. Brand is reputation. Branding is an attempt to change that reputaiton through words or messages rather than behavior.
Thanks, Edward. That’s the best summary I’ve read so far on the topic(s).
I figured I should quit while I was ahead. But you must admit, the opportunity to connect, debate, disagree and clarify our thinking is what’s cool about all of this. What about you? Care to weigh in? Message versus behavior? Reputation vs Branding? Branding vs Brand?
photo by: jddefillippo 138