Looking for the brand among all the branding

I left a day-long conference on branding this week inspired in several new directions. But I couldn’t shake a nagging question: In our fascination with the new tools of branding are we forgetting what we’re supposed to be building—namely, the brands of our businesses?

I found inspiration in the material of several speakers who persuaded me the latest mobile devices we otherwise call cellphones are a cultural game changer. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say their impact will be as great as radio, television, personal computers and the Internet were when they emerged on the scene. I understand why marketers are salivating at the prospect of turning these smart devices into conduits for branding and promotion. The conference also deepened my appreciation for the branding possibilities of social media. One presenter says they’re transforming our customer dialogues into “multilogues.”

Lost in all the buzz this conference and others like it generate around mobile and social media and other leading-edge branding techniques is the brand itself. We seem to be taking the brands of our businesses for granted. We assume our businesses have a clear, shared understanding of what we stand for and what makes us different and relevant. So rather than concern ourselves with the basics of the brand, we obsess over how to use the hip branding tools du jour, such as Facebook, Twitter and iPhone apps.  

As marketers, we can’t afford to confuse branding with the brand itself. Branding is doing, brand is being—it’s who we are as a business. It’s easy to let the doing of marketing consume us, especially when there are far more cool ways to connect with customers than ever before. We get into trouble when our eagerness to deploy compelling technology blinds us to why we exist and who we are as a business or brand. These fundamental questions of being are unchanging, whether for humans or for human organizations. They’re also questions many businesses and marketers avoid. They require a period of introspection and reflection that many businesses feel they can’t afford. They’re moving too fast, they tell themselves.

Or perhaps the existential questions of purpose and meaning make us uncomfortable—what if we discover there’s no there there in our business? So as marketers we busy ourselves with the doing, the branding. And we add the likes of Twitter, Facebook and mobile marketing to the still unfinished business of perfecting blogs, websites, webinars and other digital channels. We end up building brands in the way improv artists make up the story as they go along. The process may be entertaining, but the resulting brand is purely random.

In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.”

June 5th, 2009


  1. Right on, Rich. Branding tools sometimes do tend to overshadow the brands they’re supposed to communicate. Using all the cool tools and shiny objects out there in branding, it becomes hard to keep in mind what they’re for.

    Tool/tactic-driven marketing seems to be on many bloggers’ minds these days. Paul Isakson, Todd Defren, and Katya Andresen are just a few whose post on a related note I’ve read in the past few days. And following our conversation the other day I also contributed a post of my own…

    Comment by Peter Korchnak — June 5, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

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