Augustine Fou recently wrote that branding today is ineffective, irrelevant, irritating and impotent. Here at MOB Media, we are strong believers in Direct Response. So you might expect that our response to his blog entry would be "ABOUT TIME SOMEONE SAID IT!" However, since I was told when I was very young that you should not judge someone (or something) until you have walked in their shoes, I am going to throw a curveball and try to take the other side of this argument for the sake of understanding everyone's point of view. Isn't that what we all learned to do in debate classes?
Here it goes (with a straight face and everything!):
The biggest problem is that when people say branding doesn't work it's because they don't even know what branding means. Agencies cannot by themselves "create branding". It's the customer experience that makes branding what it is. From the advertising and marketing, to the aisles of the store floor, to the packaging and the service after the purchase, that's all branding. Customers change their perception of the company through all of this activity and through continuous interaction with the product or service. An ad or image can only go so far. The experience is what matters!
It's not really fair to say that brand strategy (keyword: strategy) is unimportant. If you look through history, you'll see that Coke, Pepsi, Nike, IBM, Apple, Google, Honda, etc, all have an identity. Something that you can hang your hat on as far as knowing what you're getting. Whether its the personal service, easy website to navigate, a great product, a warranty that is above all else, whatever, it's everything they do that matters. A label. A perception of who they are. Well, I guess that's why they call it a brand! I do not believe a bad product can survive with good branding. However, a poor product can swell its cash flow with great direct marketing, but ultimately will fail once the customer experiences the poor service, low quality, what have you. That is part and parcel of branding, so you can't discount its role in the marketing arena.
Agencies play an important role in the branding strategy. But they're not the only ones that need to make a brand commitment. MOB Media itself has helped our clients create more than just logos, advertising and pretty pictures. We have dug in deep to understand the psyche of our audience. We have recommended that MBA students should have a different expectation walking into a classroom than the undergrads. With that same client we recommended a more prestigious name for the MBA program and separated our client from its under graduate pinning’s as they didn't match what an MBA student was looking for. Yes, we used advertising as one of our arrows in our branding quiver, but it was unique to the experience of a potential customer. We also, brought in leather chairs and conference tables. Higher end technology and such. That's not the role of a traditional agency, but it's what you have to do to be anointed a good brand marketer. And of course, the product or service has to match the work agencies do. Oh, by the way, most of the heavy lifting came from our direct response initiatives, but we'll save that for another day!
So, there you have it. I have walked in another man's Berluti's. Branding is still vital to an overall strategy, but let's all realize that in today's economy, continued sales is what counts.