It’s What’s Behind The Branding Buzz That Counts

j0199406It’s no secret that marketing people love buzz words.  Used properly, buzz words serve a useful purpose, but are so overused or misused that they have lost any value.  “Branding” is one such word.  Everyone “does branding” these days – graphic designers, research companies, advertising agencies, public relations firms, even special events planners.  They all say they’re “branding” experts.  Rubbish.

Most people understand that a “brand” is the immediate reaction someone has when they hear a company’s name or see its logo.  In the automotive industry, for example, Rolls-Royce = luxury, Toyota = quality, Viper = thrill.  It would be extremely difficult to find anyone who disagrees with those characterizations.  That’s the power of a “brand.”

“Branding,” on the other hand, is a process easier said than done.  In our view, you start by understanding the current brand perception amongst key stakeholders, then define what you want it to be, build a roadmap to bridge the gap, and execute a series of integrated programs to achieve the desired end.  The key word here is “integrated.”  Logos, research, advertising, public relations, social media, etc., are simply tools employed as necessary.  Deciding which tools to utilize, and deploying them effectively and efficiently, is what separates true branding practitioners from the myriad of firms and sole practitioners that are merely trying to expand the range of what they can sell to clients.

Unfortunately, who a company engages for branding services is usually the deciding factor in what kind of program they get.  Graphic designers, advertising agencies and others whose strength is “visual” communications will want to redevelop logos, websites and ads.  “New” media firms will wax poetic on how social media and web-centric activities are the key to breaking free of clutter. Pubic relations firms will weigh in on how marketing dollars should be allocated towards media relations and special events.

This is understandable, from an agency perspective.  Service companies usually have one “core” competency, and a major part of their growth strategy is to leverage that into a broader role with their clients.

However, unless the agency truly understands integrated communications and what it takes to develop a fully integrated marketing program, results will be incomplete and therefore ineffective.  In our view, the best branding practitioners have senior-level corporate experience in aligning marketing programs with strategic business plans.  They spend more time listening to clients than they do lecturing them, and recognize the importance of working closely with sales and operations teams to execute branding programs.  They want to help you grow your business, not merely add another case study to their website and new business pitch.

Even if a company is in a position to throw money at marketing programs to ensure that its messages are heard (and this kind of company is an endangered species), building trust takes time.  Trust is what differentiates market awareness from market acceptance.  Trust, not awareness, makes the cash register ring.  Too often, people who have spent their entire careers on the agency side of the table don’t understand the difference, and likely never will.

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