The death of branding and other myths.

Brands don’t matter. At least that’s the word these days. Marketers have been trying to sell the power of branding for years, and it’s always been an uphill struggle. In this supposedly post-brand world it’s gotten even harder to convince marketing decision makers that there’s benefit to brand building.

A Post-Brand World?
For the moment, let’s accept the premise that brands no longer matter.  I’ll direct you to the excellent book Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom, who points out a 2007 Nielsen survey that found the average person could recall only 2.21 commercials they had ever seen, compared to the eight percent of all commercials seen by the average TV viewer in 1990. Lindstrom makes a common point–we’re all under assault from too many marketing megaphones and too many messages, and our overworked gray matter can’t keep up.

This is the foundation of the argument that we’re living in a post-brand world.

This is also wrong.

Brands Still Matter, but Differently
Here’s an obvious point: The consumer of 2007 is very different than the consumer of 1990. And the consumer of 2017 is radically different than either. But if you dissect the affinities and beliefs and motivations of those consumers you’ll discover that each of them has connections with brands. Those connections have developed in different ways and they may be ever more fleeting, but they exist.

We’re not living in a post-brand world. However, a lot of people including marketers no longer recognize what brands look like. Their points of reference are the consumer household brands that are being undercut by online brands and discounters. They haven’t recognized the brands that are capitalizing on shorter attention spans, the higher velocity of change, and the demand for value.

Those brands exist and they’re not going away. And that gives me hope, whether I’m working with business or consumer brands.

Anker: A Brand Case Study
Branding commodities is tough, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Take the USB battery. You get them as giveaways at tradeshows. They’re everywhere, and available at a discount. They’re not what you would consider an item that’s ripe to be branded.

Anker, which was founded by a group of ex-Googler’s, begs to differ. They’ve built a growing business by manufacturing well-designed commodity products like batteries and cables, wrapping them in well-designed packaging, and making the process of purchasing them relatively frictionless. An Anker cable doesn’t look like the typical commodity cable that arrives in a plastic bag. It looks more sophisticated, and even though it doesn’t really cost more its appearance communicates a simple idea: Quality.

That friends, is branding. And a growing number of Anker customers, and a growing array of Anker products, attests that it works.

The Timid Aren’t Going to Win
Times have changed, brands have changed, and what it takes to build a brand has changed. But it can be done. And here are three principles to follow in order to succeed:

  1. Be bold. Whether you are staking out a position in the marketplace or delivering a message, there is no room for being halfhearted. Make a commitment or get crushed.
  2. Marketing has always been more emotionally centered than rational, and now is the time to go all in on this. To build a brand, you have to understand what it looks, sounds and even smells like. More important, you have to know how to draw connections between your brand and customers’ emotions. Which brings us to:
  3. Know your customers and cherish them. The days of believing that everyone is a potential customer are long gone. You need to understand your customers, what they value, and why, and continually meet them where they are and speak the language of their values.

Hey, No One Said It’s Going to Be Easy

A smart person once said, “If your advertising doesn’t make you nervous don’t run it.” That same wisdom applies to marketing today. Brands have changed. We have to change with them. That means fully committing to bold ideas that are based on knowing our customers. For anyone who isn’t on board with that idea, it’s daunting to think about.

Sure, some marketers think this is terrifying. But I couldn’t be happier.