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November 20, 2012Nobody gives a toss about your brand

That’s right. Nobody gives a toss about your brand. Repeat those words, very slowly, after me. Nobody. Gives. A. Toss.

I have had the fortune (or misfortune, in some cases) to have worked for some of the world’s top brands (rather more than I’m able to mention, as the bigger the brand the more cast-iron the NDA tends to be).

And I can tell you, a lot of those guys in the top twenty, even in the top fifty brands… all they’re interested in is tooting their own horns.

Blowing their own trumpets, if you catch my drift.

OK, I’m lying. I have worked for several brands who genuinely “get it” — that their reputation depends not on some mythical “brand experience” but rather on the quality of their products and the quality of the service they provide.

Sadly, brands that actually “get it” seem to be in the minority.

A typical conversation with a brand:

Brand X – “We’ve decided to start selling Product Y! It’s going to cost £100 and even though we have no experience in this market, people will buy from us because they know and love our brand!”

Copywriter – “But Company Z has been in this market for 5 years. Nobody had heard of them 5 years ago, but they offered a good product at a low price and their sales are growing 20% year on year. Their copy, their website, their branding emphasises the quality and reliability of their product. They sell Product Y at half the cost you want to sell your version of the product at, have developed a great word-of-mouth reputation, and frankly, their product is of a much higher quality than yours.”

Brand X – “But people will buy our product because of our BRAAAAAAANNNNDDDDD!”

Fact. All brands are narcissists.

I am not for a single instant suggesting that price is the only thing that shifts products. Quality sells, and having a good reputation is essential. Having a strong brand helps you leverage that positive reputation. But lose focus on the product for even a second — and it won’t take long before your reputation for poor quality eclipses any and all goodwill towards your brand.

Brands tend dangerously towards narcissism — towards obsession with style over substance. Never more so than today, when so-called marketing gurus are advising brands to “create meaningful brand experiences” in order to sell products.

How about simply making good products?

Why do brands exist? It’s not to ‘give us meaningful brand experiences’. It’s to reassure us of the quality of a product. A generic car made in some south Asian factory has little value – it is of uncertain heritage, uncertain build quality. But slap a marque – Mercedes, Jaguar, Lexus, whatever – onto it, and it comes with a certain guarantee.

This is why brands exist. Not to “create meaningful experiences” but to reassure people of the quality of the product.

“Brand experience” is meaningless and unquantifiable — and it takes away the focus on the product. When I bought a flatscreen panel last year, I bought a Samsung because, at the moment, their reputation and the reviews suggested that they’re the best. I didn’t buy it because of the ‘Samsung Experience’.

Of course, lifestyle factors come into play for different products. Many people buy Apple Macs simply because they like the image of the brand, and many people will choose to drive a Jaguar over a Ford – even though some models share most of their parts in common.

But when your brand is your sole focus, you’re forgetting why your brand exists in the first place: to give a quantifiable reputation to your products.

In other words, it’s time to start talking more about what you can offer and start talking less about yourselves.

So what’s the solution?

For starters, you can stop surrounding yourself with flatterers. Like kings in their court, brands are unaccustomed to being questioned, preferring the sycophantic flattery of agencies and creatives who are desperate to work with them, resulting in most modern advertising / marketing being a “love letter to the brand” rather than a solid exposition of the product’s worth and the brand’s values.

Most agencies you hire aren’t selling your products to your customer, they’re selling their ideas to you. They want you to approve their ideas — so they pick ideas that flatter your brand’s ego, rather than coming forward with ideas that actually sell.

This isn’t the case at every brand and it’s not the case at every agency. But as a copywriter I see it time and time again: brands that only want to focus on telling the world how great their brand is, and creative agencies that only want to flatter the brand.

Both brands and agencies could benefit from telling the world what’s so great about their products, not what’s so great about themselves.

Brand experience?

When it comes to your reputation, the quality of the product you’re selling right now is the most important thing to the continuing reputation of your brand.

Market accordingly.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 at 3:23 pm and is filed under Blog, Branding. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One comment

  1. Great post. The word ‘meaningful’ is pernicious and should be dropped. It sounds significant and deep, but the fact is that people don’t want meaning, they want value.

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