What great marketers know – why brand strength has never been more important. And why their brands flourish.

……their brands will never be found on the junk heap

“The belief that [the] marketing contract can be stripped of all its joyful subjectivity until all that remains between consumer and brand is transaction . . . is the fallacy of our time.” Giles Hedger, Chief of Strategy, Leo Burnett Worldwide How Mad Men Lost the Plot

It has never been easier, nor quicker for brands to be considered ‘junk’ and cast aside. And the ‘best’ have more competition than ever.

As people and markets evolve and ultimately change, so too must brands evolve and if necessary change if they wish to remain relevant and competitive. And not be relegated to the ‘also rans’ scrap heap.

Jeb Bush’s suspension of his campaign, despite one of the largest war chests in the game, attests to brand irrelevance and not being in touch with the market. As does Rubio’s, whose relevance had some traction for a while but ultimately undone by Republican’s move to the rightist ‘fascism’ of Donald Trump.

The history of the development of branding, leading up to brand as a metonym, is closely linked to advances in technology, which changed dissemination of information, distribution of products and services, consumer contact points as well as the nature of the interactions.

Think brands from the age of the stamp of ownership (the word ‘brand’ originates from the Old Norse “Brandr” which means ‘burn’), to trademarks (closely associated with quality) and the continued development of consumerism where marketers realised they could influence, pander to and create increased desire.

It wasn’t too long before desire on its own was seen, due to economic and cultural shifts, as nothing more than skin deep with little positive human value bringing out the worst in society. Avarice. Consumers evolved; demanding deeper and more meaning from the brands with which they interacted. It therefore became important to connect with consumers through shared values and shared behaviours.

For the majority of consumers, brands are short cuts to decision making. They put you on the radar, preferably in a favourable position if we as marketers and business leaders have done our jobs BETTER than the competitors.

Baby Boomers are retiring, Generation X (Millenials) were influenced in attaitude by economic prosperity, whilst the Ys and Zs have been / are being led by technology. This influence or shaping results in changed attitudes, culture and values.

Brands are shaped by customers themselves and their relationship with the brand. The reputation of an organisation gives it ‘lift’ – or not, a competitive edge through inspiring loyalty and confidence amongst consumers. And given the fact that that a brand is the result of many facets acting in unison, the result of good branding is always more than the sum of the parts. Good marketers not only know this, but work towards it. Synergy. Together Everything Achieves More.

Good marketers know what the ‘Everything’ is made of, and how each part of the puzzle needs managing. And their brand’s zenith should be the Zeitgeist of the moment.

The profound impact that the technological advances of the last 20 years, of which the majority has happened in the last 6, has had on societies is well documented.

Perhaps most importantly, it has empowered consumers through increased transparency, consumer advocacy and brought the point of interaction and the nature of that interaction between brands and users closer together. It has therefore brought more focus on brand integrity – consumers and the media are increasingly more aware of how brands behave.

(In the USA on 21st Feb a man is arrested for a number of apparently random shootings in which 6 people die. It is reported that he is an Uber driver. Uber has been under fire for the non-vetting of their drivers leading to issues around security for their passengers. Yet thousands of cab / taxi / private hire drivers are not screened in a way that’d suggest they couldn’t commit murder.The Uber brand is tarnished for a ‘non-work’ action by someone associated with the organisation).

Brands are complex; they’re built up over time and have as a kernel an acute insight or human truth. The customer touch-points and channels for that amplified truth have multiplied in number, complexity and sensitivity. One size doesn’t fit all – how the amplified truth is deployed at each touch point in itself demands an amplification programme that has multiple layers and approach points layers.

So why the junk? Because there is so much shallow insight – if any – poorly amplified (from a decent marketer’s point of view) out there. That’s why. Ok, a little harsh maybe but it depends which side of the fence you’re on.

And why is there so much junk out there?

Technology has lowered the barriers to entry making it really easy to ‘get out there’ – it costs relatively little to generate eyeballs irrespective of quality (depth) of content and be seen alongside great brands. And channels are full of stuff – just stuff…..which doesn’t say that much about the customer they’re aimed at, let alone the users.

Any brand worth its salt is focused on an insight that is spoken of as a ‘higher purpose’. It has cultural resonance. It answers the question ‘why’ we are in business as opposed to the ‘what we do’ and the ‘how we do it’. And crucially today, progressive organisations know that the real battlefield for competitive edge lies in culture. And that brands need to reflect that culture. They need to have a good EQ – Emotional Quotient. It all speaks to shared values and shared experiences.

(Trends in recruitment indicate more hirers looking to recruit on a candidate’s potential and cultural fit with the organisation; to enhance culture through service oriented and collaborative hires).

Commercially it requires greater effort, resource,commitment and craftsmanship to bring insights to life given the lower attention spans of consumers. The lower attention spans are primarily a result of multitude of choice, and linked to channel surfing…the search for instant gratification.

Appealing headlines entice our clicks, only to disappoint with the content.

In the main, consumers have never really gone out to look for commercial messages as part of their day-to-day information consumption. That’s why commercial messages have always been ‘placed’ in front of potential users. (But let’s not forget those brands who delighted us with their self-expression, and ability to tell stories, whether short or long. Note the build up to Superbowl 50, the USA’s ad showcase, and the hype around which brand/s would entertain the most). And why the advent of ad blockers has so many rightfully concerned.

Brands resonate with customers. Brands with higher demand resonate on a different level from the mediocre ones. It’s an absolute given that a car will get you from a to b. Each model’s appeal is ‘how’ it gets you there; – effectively, what does it say about you?

MOST importantly, many marketers have become so caught up in the hype of tech and social media. Pressured by accountants to prove what they do works, they embraced the new highly focused and measurable digital tools in search of likes, impressions, shares. They have forgotten the relevance of many pieces of the puzzle in building brands, making those brands wanted and famous.

As a tractor has 4 wheels, it is of little use transporting your family from a to b for the summer holidays, let alone giving its driver the swank and social kudos saught by many.

So too must brand leaders re-appraise all the tools available today and understand what each best serves.

Product fit and the market, get it right. Amplify the target’s insight relevant for today, and spread it using the channels best suited to the outcome required. Use the correct tools to connect one-on-one, and personalise as appropriate through the contact points.

And to avoid the junk heap, manage the relevance of the brand and have the gumption to make it stand for something.

It’s about standing up and being counted. Doing the underlying products and services, the people who make and deliver them, justice.

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