It’s nearly 30 years since I first started working in brands and branding. In that time, interest in the subject has moved from PR and marketing departments to the general public and mainstream media. Branding fascinates people because it is ubiquitous. We are surrounded by brands daily. But this is only a relatively recent phenomenon. It is only in the last 30 years or so that we have begun to appreciate the discipline of branding, the economic value that brands generate and the complex ways in which we as consumers or customers interact with them. One thing that hasn’t changed in that time is the many myths about branding, what it does and what it does not do.
My colleague Simon Bailey and I have published a book, Myths of Branding, to dispel some of these. This week it lands in the travel branches of WH Smith, thus disproving another myth that the days of physical bookstores are over. You can of course get the book digitally and from other bookstores, including from an on-line brand that didn’t exist when I started work, Amazon.
We’ve devoted a chapter to each one of 20 persistent or pervasive myths and given our perspective on them. Here, by way of a taster, are five which have been around since I wore a younger man’s (branded) clothes, together with the brief summary of our riposte.
Myth: Brands are just a way of charging you more for the same product
People buy brands for more reasons than just the product. There are psychological benefits from buying brands which transcend product features. Ultimately, we, the customers, decide what price we are prepared to pay for a brand. Rather than being fooled into parting with more money than we need to, we often actively collude with companies to pay a premium, because we are buying into so much more than just a simple product or service.
Myth: Branding is just about the logo and advertising
A whole chain of experiences that shape perceptions and preferences creates brands. The logo is always fundamental, and advertising is often crucially important, but it is not the essential brand builder. Jeff Bezos famously said that: ‘A brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. And what they say about you tends to be the result of what you do’. For the modern brand builder in a multichannel world in which people are craving authentic and engaging experiences, not just entertaining advertising, it is vital to remember to build your brand on everything you say and everything you do.
Myth: Brands don’t have financial value
Brands create both financial and economic value. They are specific assets which generate a security of income for any business and they can be sold by one business to another, providing cash for the vendor. They create economic value because of what their owners do with them: how they invest in them, how they extend them, how they update them and keep them relevant and fit-for-purpose for their consumers.
Myth: In certain businesses, brands really don’t matter
Brands have a part to play in nearly all aspects of a functioning free market economy. They are the most obvious signs of competition. Where there is a choice to be made between the competing offers of two suppliers, that choice is manifested and made easier by the differentiation of their respective brands. Brands help to drive value, maintain competitive advantage and are ownable by law, which protects both the owner and the customer from unscrupulous competitors. Brands help businesses connect with, and retain customers and employees, both of whom are the lifeblood of any business, whether it be B2C, B2B or B2B2C.
Myth: Brands are just about what happens on the outside
In this era of total branding (where every interaction with a customer affects their propensity to like or dislike you), little distinction should be made between employees and customers. Both have the potential to be passionate advocates for your brand and both are critical to your success.
To get it right on the outside, you first have to get it right on the inside.
Another thing that has not changed in the last 30 years or so is that a strong brand remains the fastest and surest way of growing your business at speed. But you have to know how to ignore the myths and focus on the facts, the most important of which is that a strong brand can build a strong business.