Austin McGhie Featured in AdAge
I’m sick and tired of the “B” word. Branding.
It has to be the most misused — and least understood — word in the business of . . . well, branding.
Let’s start from the top: Unless you’re a cattle rancher, there’s no such thing as “branding.” If you are a marketing professional, you are dealing with a noun, not a verb, a consequence, not an action. Simply put: You can’t brand something. You earn your brand. A brand is a prize, an award — one that can only be bestowed upon your company by the marketplace.
If I sound grumpy, it’s because the B word, never precisely defined in the first place, has become such a nebulous, fit-everything term that it now essentially has no meaning. Worse, it is regularly abused by marketing people as a means of extracting money from clients and bullying skeptics into silence.
Let’s stop blindly worshipping the B word. The sooner we marketers demystify this single word, the sooner our business partners will trust us with the car keys.
So what is a brand in the first place? I can’t even get my colleagues to agree, but here’s a definition I like: A brand is present when the value of what something means to its audience is greater than the value of what it does for that audience.
You have a thing — a product, service, idea, person (including yourself), place, etc. This something can have an image, a reputation and/or a track record. But it can be a brand only once it reaches a particular destination, and not a minute before. The most interesting feature of that destination is that you don’t know where it is until you get there. No one can give you a schedule, or an estimated time of arrival. You arrive when your audience tells you that you have arrived, when your audience tells you that you have indeed built a brand.
No matter what we so-called “branding” professionals may say, there’s no magic line to cross. There is no line in the sand with “product” written on one side and “brand” on the other. It would be convenient if there were — but real marketing is anything and everything but convenient.
Pick your own definition of brand. Whatever you choose, the important thing is that you treat that term as a noun, and that you never use it as a verb. From now on, you will look upon brand as the prize at the end of a long road.
But if brand is forever the noun, what then is the verb? What is the work of marketing? Positioning.
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