Branding and brand management… you have a problem.

I love brands. Maybe not every brand, but quite a few. I think everybody does, even Naomi Klein. And I love branding, the process and discipline of turning a rather generic, non-distinctive product, service or organization into something special. Branding is about personality, about values, about the why you are in the world and the how you make the live of people better. Branding is about the relationship a company has (or wishes to have) with human beings, it’s about creating experiences that leave both parties better of. And in that sense, the concept of the brand is a as timeless as a business concept can be.

Nevertheless, the relevance of brands and branding is increasingly challenged. Consulting companies in building and managing their brands, it gets more and more obvious that almost everything with the label „brand“ has an image problem. Brand communication? Costly campaigns with lovely picture but doesn’t sell the product. Brand management? The guideline police that slows down every innovative project by creating problems nobody expected, as popular as tax authorities. Brand design? The decorative layer, the surface, the logo, colors and imagery. Brand experience? Staged events for a selected few or the visit of fancy showrooms and flagship stores. To be honest, the image problem seems severe in service and corporate brand and less obvious in product brand (ie. fmcg brands) settings.

Anyway… kind of strange that a discipline concerned with building compelling images all day long ended up with such perception. But, how could „brand“ and especially brand management end up like this? Misunderstanding and mismanagement! In what way? First of all,  „brand“ is usually not used and depicted congruently with „business“ – in text books, in presentations, in speeches etc.. I’ve seen (and even used) way too many diagrams that show „the holy trinity“ of business perspective, user/customer perspective and brand perspective. Usually all three perspectives (drawn as „bubbles“ or boxes) overlap. Fine, but how shall we understand the area of the „brand bubble“ (nice one, right?) that features no overlap with the two others? I don’t get it.

You cannot separate the brand perspective from the business perspective. The brand perspective is a section of the business perspective, not taking every aspect of a business into consideration. To put it differently, there are sections of a business perspective that do not affect the brand perspective, but there are no sections of a brand perspective that are not part of the business perspective. No problem with putting the label „brand“ or „brand experience“ on the overlap of the business and the user/customer perspective, but penetrating that there is something beyond the business perspective we call „brand“ is not just a misunderstanding, but scary. Are there any other business disciplines that separate itself from the „business“? I don’t think so.

The second aspect might be just the result of the misunderstanding of the relation between brand and business, or it is of different origin, I’m not sure. It is about the vagueness of everything that is related to brand: what it is, the value it creates, how the value can be measured, the roi of a brand measure etc. No doubt, the human mind and perception is complex and still not decoded. So, nobody has put a valid algorithm together that calculates the impact of a campaign or design on a customer lifetime value. Nevertheless, branding and brand management are tools to create value for a business.

But in an age where the digitalization triggers and facilitates the quantification of more and more parameters of our business and personal life, branding and brand management have to adapt. They cannot rely any longer on their gut feeling, their believe, profuse apologies and pussyfooting by invoking longterm effects and denying the measurability of the impact of a measure. In that sense, when we we wanna rethink and rebuild the brand „brand“, we should no longer separate it in any way from the business perspective. And that implies: no special treatment for „brand“! Prove the impact of your measures, test alternatives, act undogmatic and behave unpretentious. And do not forget, it’s about business, not art or religion.

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