A practical approach to modern marketing.

The Serial Abuse Of The Word “Brand” — And How To Avoid The Branding Trap

In a recent interview, Silicon Valley PR legend Regis McKenna touched on a marketing issue that’s pulled more than a few organizations off course.

The lack of understanding, overuse, and serial abuse of the word “brand.”

Mr. McKenna: I spend a lot of my time meeting with startups, and it usually takes three or four long meetings just to explain what marketing is all about. They start out with a fundamental question — should we be advertising more? — and they use the word “brand” very loosely.

I always say don’t use that word, because brands are built. They don’t just exist because you run an ad or because you create a nifty logo. The brand comes from the consumer’s view. How do you build innovation into your product? How do you design the product in a way so that it sells itself?

Like any word endlessly repeated, the “brand” buzzword has begun to lose all meaning.

In fact, my first act with clients is often to pull them back from the lip of the branding abyss — especially those who have been told a couple of social media accounts, a consistent logo color, a vague, “fuzzy” approach to marketing and hours of online time are all that’s needed to define a “brand.”

It simply isn’t true.

From a marketing perspective, consistent branding is wonderful stuff and worth a little effort, but outside of the basics (define a message and be consistent about it), small organizations typically can’t afford to get too devoted to it.

More importantly, a great brand is an outgrowth of great products or services. Just ask San Francisco ad guy and author Bob Hoffman:

Where I diverge from most of my colleagues is in how you build a brand. In most cases I believe the best way to build a brand is with convincing product advertising, not “branding.”

To me, a strong brand is a by-product. It comes from doing other things well.

Which sounds about right to me.

Especially in the context of small and medium-sized organizations. You don’t have time to hold one-sided “brand conversations.” You’ve got products to build, designs to improve and goods to sell. Maybe a distribution channel or two to manage. And some customer service issues to fix.

And all the other projects that will assert a far bigger effect on your brand than the color of your logo or the time spent on Facebook.

In an age when you’re facing literally thousands of media channels, it’s important to focus on those that deliver real results — and to stop wasting time on ineffective channels that distract you from your other, more-critical “brand building” job.

In simple terms, make sure you’re delivering a clear message, your marketing is effective, and you’re differentiating yourself.

And that you’re creating, selling and servicing great products.

Market smart, Tom Chandler.