Doc Searls (he of Cluetrain Manifesto fame) has a great post up called Reputation vs Branding. His premise is that the idea of branding is dead and that what’s really important is the sum total of a company’s reputation, established over years, and held in the minds of customers.
I completely agree.
Branding was a useful tool for an age where marketers needed a device to represent all the hooks and aspirations they were trying to communicate through command and control marketing and advertising. Those days are over (which is different from saying traditional media is dead).
The reality now is that consumers and customers are now creators and sharers of opinion about every company under the sun, and they have access to a virtual ocean of information from which to make smart decisions about which companies they trust and which ones they wouldn’t be seen dead supporting.
This democratization of information means that companies are now judged by consumers not simply for the quality and relevance of the products and services they bring to market, but a whole load of other things too which fall way outside the scope of a traditional ‘brand’. It doesn’t matter very much whether company x’s new widget is the best on the market and that they have great customer service if it was developed in an Asian sweatshop and caused massive pollution to develop. # fail.
To my mind companies that think in terms of ‘brand’ rather that ‘reputation’ are probably living on past successes rather than thinking about future evolution and market opportunity. They’re also less likely to be driven by a galvanizing mission, less likely to be innovative and certainly less likely to engender confidence and positivity among consumers.
A recent Alterian study has trust in advertising hovering around 5%. That’s what people think of brands these days.