What do you have: a brand or an identifier?

Identities are just a shadow of brands
Contention #1.
A true brand coalesces people around a business model – to buy, to work, to judge, to invest. True, it is, as Adrienne used to say, “the total experience of doing business with you”. But the experience is not the end – it is the means. The experience, just like all the other elements of the business model, works to generate trust, connection and distinction. It must do so deliberately, carefully and responsibly. It does so to deliver a premium.

Brands exist to earn margin beyond the going market rate. That’s their role, not their by-product. That margin can of course take various forms. It can be literal, in the sense of what consumers are prepared to pay. It can be cultural, in the sense that people with more talent are drawn to one marque over another. It can be financial, in the sense of enhanced EPS (earnings per share) for investors.

A brand that doesn’t generate, or intend to generate, that above-normal market rate is a brand in decline or no brand at all.

Contention #2. One of the key reasons we have such cluttered small and middle sized markets is that so many companies in those markets don’t have brands. They have identifiers that they call “brands”. In fact, they are signatures. But, in the parlance of a brand is not a logo, putting a name on a product or a firm, particularly an indistinguishable product or firm, doesn’t make it a brand. It simply makes it an also-ran with a name.

Companies then invest advertising money in their identifier in the hope that it will somehow gain value. What they are actually investing in is media-paid familiarity of their identity.

Contention #3. So much brand strategy is actually identity strategy, because it is based on developing an informed identity system, not driven by the need to develop a storied ecosystem capable of generating those above-market returns.

Contention #4. So much brand management is actually identity management – again because it seeks to control how the brand is arranged rather than overseeing how the brand is performing as a margin generator.

Contention #5. Many rebrands are really re-identifications. They modernise the hieroglyphics. They don’t redefine how the business will make money beyond the given market return.

Contention #6. Brands should be assessed for investment by senior decision makers and Boards on their ability to deliver to the key financial measures and indicators, not questioned on their affordability based on the key financial measures and indicators. As a Marketing Manager said to me just last week, “I’m struggling to get my Board to understand that I’m responsible for assets not opex items.”


Photo entitled “That’s Interesting” by Kevin Dooley, sourced from Flickr


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  1. Mark – In my opinion this is spot on. All six contentions. Too often “branding professionals” focus on putting a different shade of lipstick on the pig instead of what needs to be done to make more bacon.

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