I recently read a New Yorker article entitled “Twilight of the Brands” written by James Surowiecki. In it, he posits that with the advent of the Internet and the comparison shopping and consumer feedback that it enables, consumers have more perfect information about product alternatives including their quality and value.
Therefore, there is far less need for brands to offer those assurances. In the article, Mr. Surowiecki says that Interbrand argues that brands help people sift through the overwhelming amount of information, simplifying their product choices, however he points out that people have learned how to sift through an enormous amount of information efficiently and effectively, negating Interbrand’s argument. I follow Mr. Surowiecki’s logic and largely agree with his premise. Where we part ways is in the definition of a brand. Implied in his discussion is that brands are a communication overlay to products and are largely created by advertising. I had a similar reaction when I first read Naomi Klein’s book, No Logo. I followed her logic too and there is much that she said that I agreed with. But when she talked about the evil of brands it seemed to me that she was really talking about the harmful effects of consumerism and our overly commercialized society.
I have always thought about brands as personifications of organizations and their products and services. In this way, they can embrace values, have personalities and make promises. Further, they can consistently deliver on those promises building trust and loyalty or they can fail to deliver on those promises, creating distrust and disloyalty. In a way, brands help bring a human perspective back to organizations, especially in their interactions with their customers. That is, they provide a vehicle through which organizations can build relationships with their customers.
To transform organizations and their products and services into strong brands, organizations must have a very high level of customer intimacy. An increasing number of organizations even reach out to their customers to co-create their brands with them. Today’s process of brand management goes well beyond brand identity management and marketing communication. It gets into values alignment, community building and co-creation of products, services and customer experiences. Further, it aligns organization values, systems, processes and employees in support of the brand’s promise. And, given this, the resulting products and services are very likely to possess superior quality and the brand is more likely to anticipate customer needs and delight customers in unexpected ways. In fact, well-managed brands also often result in innovative and visionary behavior.
Maybe I think about brands too broadly, but it is not in my nature to think of them in a more limited sense. And this is how we guide our clients to think about brands too. So, from my perspective, inferior products are the result of inferior brand management. While the two are not the same, they are very strongly linked.
I don’t believe brands are dying. I believe they have evolved from identities and communication created by marketing departments to the very souls and guiding principals of the organizations that bear their names.
May your brands be strong and may they lead to superior products and services.
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