The Future of Branding is Debranding. Well maybe, but first you need to know what is branding

Here’s a link to an interesting article in the fast company owned site magazine, an online design driven website that is “inspiring stories about innovation and business, seen through the lens of design.” They recently ran a story cleverly titled The Future of Branding is Debranding.

I’m an occassional visitor to the site and particularly like their infographic of the day. Have a look at this one that depicts climate change as a haunting death spiral.

The article starts well enough with the fact that digital media is blunting the effects of advertising but then goes on to say that native advertising or branded content is a sham and nothing more than an attempt to trick customers into spending money. While getting customers to spend money is the aim of most advertising (as is quality design) it misses the point of what is branding.

The future of branding is debranding? Well maybe, but not if we're starting from the wrong place
The future of branding is debranding? Well maybe, but not if we’re starting from the wrong place

The article does make some valid points about branded content and how it is not a strategic exercise or a long game. And this is true, it’s simply a tactic employed by brands. But it loses it’s way as it confuses tactics with strategy. Branding is a strategic exercise, most branded content is a tactic although some firms such as Coca Cola do it properly (see video below) and integrate it across channels and make it strategic.

The post then goes on to make the bold but ultimately wrong statement that, “Branding is, fundamentally, just a form of communication.” This is simply not true and I’m surprised such an auspicious publication allows such a claim to be made.

Indeed, it’s claims like this, from prestigious sources that are muddying the branding waters. How can CEOs make the investments required in branding if they are confused by what constitutes branding in the first place?

To make matters worse, it then goes on to say that debranding shouldn’t be confused with visual branding! Using a couple of niche brands as examples it says, “Such visual identities could be the result of debranding, but they are not the end goal. The real goal is a well-made product.”

I don’t understand the visual bit, but a well a well made product is definately a goal and any brand should start with something that is fit for purpose because no amount of communications will make a crap product good and certainly won’t build a brand.

But what’s really important is that the brand delivers economic, experiential and emotional value every time, and at every touchpoint and with everyone.

The mistake too many brands make when they start branding (or the advice they are given is wrong) is that they think branding is based on acquisition – it isn’t and they think that stringing together a series of tactical campaigns will build a brand – it won’t.

Products or services need to be sold. Companies need to make those sales but the ability to start delivering value at the first and subsequent touch points is going to lay the foundations for the success, or not of that brand’s relationship with the prospect/customer. And that relationship is what builds the brand.

Advertising, branded content, design etc may be required at some point (although increasingly consumers are not influenced by such superficialities and look for more personalisation and relevance) but critical is the ability of the brand to deliver the value I keep mentioning.

The article finishes with the statement, “Don’t throw a new product on the market if it’s not intrinsically better and more durable than what already exists. We don’t need more branding; we need fewer, better-quality products. Fine-tune your product’s quality, design, and its durability. Become a producer of shoes again instead of surrogate spirituality”

Whilst Chinese products may have had short term success because they were cheap, most consumers are moving back to quality products from more established manufacturers who have invested in tools to improve their efficiencies, making consumers the winners as products are better.

So we’re definately moving away from ‘cheap as chips’ junk. But at the same time, with a growing global population with more disposable income, there will always be demand for commodities but again they shouldn’t be confused with brands.

And besides, despite the advertising, the branded content and all the other tactics used to try and entice you, you don’t need to change what you are already happy with.

And bearing in mind that 80% of what most of us buy are the same things, one could argue that a lot of brands are already doing the right thing.


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