Lots of brouhaha around branding lately [try these posts for starters]. I've tried to stay out of the fray, but it's not working. And when I received an invitation today - and there's a difference between a pitch and an invite - to review a copy of the new book, Beyond The Brand, [blog] I figured that was a sign.
Before I jump on branding, let me say I think too many marketers have lost sight of the purpose of marketing. So much of marketing has been about selling (foisting) what's been created in a vacuum to The Market. Here's one of my all-time favorite quotes on marketing:
There will always, one can assume, be need for some selling. But the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself. Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available. - Peter Drucker
What's branding? (Good question.)
The word brand has become such an integral part of the modern business lexicon that everyone seems to know intuitively what it means, yet if you asked ten people, you would get ten slightly different answers.
The word brand has evolved to mean everything that personifies a company or product. It means much more than a logo or a great advertising campaign. It is further defined by every new product created, every press release that the company issues, and every customer service person's voice. - Beyond the Brand: Why Engaging The Right Customers Is Essential To Winning In Business, by John Winsor
So the real issue seems to be that although some of us would like to extend branding's original intent, it's may be a futile exercise because the term's history conjures and connotes certain things. Doc Searles sums up on Todd's A Penny For post:
I spent much of my professional life trying to make "branding" mean something other than what Procter & Gamble wanted it to mean in the first place, and what it's come to mean to the brand management profession. It was a wannabe exercize. Branding remains a specialized professional discipline that fails to leverage very well outside its original purposes.
A similar sentiment about the origins and history of branding is given in Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands (note the subtitle). Brands were originally conceived in the 1950s to give the perception of differentiation to products that were essentially if I remember author Kevin Roberts' analogy like comparing two nearly identical piles of gravel. Momentum says the same thing about the history of branding. And so does FusionBranding.
Here is one of my favorite passages from FusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand (you can easily substitute branding for positioning):
When June Cleaver wore pearls while serving dinner to Beaver and the family, "positioning" could work. Consumers had limited access to information and companies could generally control how offerings were portrayed within limited media..."Positioning" ignores a basic principle of communications theory. Communication does not occur just because the speaker (or company) speaks. It occurs only when the message is heard, and ideally, accepted....["P]ositioning is out of step with the requirements of the customer and demand economies. The interlinked imperatives of these eras are relationships, execution and the ability to do business on customer terms. It definitely is not, in Ries and Trout's words, "what you do to the mind of the prospect." A more powerful perspective is to enable prospects - and customers - to shape your thinking.
Information is much more symmetric now and customers are creating their own truth-telling networks. Let's face it, branding has never before been a two-way street in terms of whom is influencing whom.
[A]ccording to author John Winsor, branding has been happening backwards. He suggests that the time has come to adopt a new set of objectives - to move Beyond the Brand. Winsor writes from the perspective of a marketing expert who has seen firsthand the effects of backwards branding. He makes a powerful case that consumers have, in response to this aggressive brand-first approach, developed a "brand immune system" that only magnifies the problems involved with traditional branding today. Instead of focusing on branding techniques, he explains, companies must learn to use "bottom-up" tools to co-create new products and marketing strategies with their customers. It's about getting out in the streets and spending time with the right customers in their worlds, creating the essential foundations for breakthrough innovation. - Beyond the Brand by John Winsor
But something is afoot in the frontiers in marketing and perhaps the swishy term branding isn't doing it justice. Personally my background is more in product development and product management, so I like that marketing is going more upstream.
P&G, Samsung, and others like them put great energy into learning what their customers crave [via new ethnographic and behavior practices from anthropology and psychology] - and into designing their innovation process to satisfy them. So close are they to their customers that they are beginning to co-create with them....[S]uccess increasingly goes to those companies who focus on creating better things with [emphasis mine] their customers, not for them. - Business Week editorial, October 11, 2004, 75th Anniversity The Innovation Economy issue