The Truth About Branding: It's Useless

Last Updated Oct 12, 2010 5:45 AM EDT

One of the sponsors of my local public radio outlets is the firm Protobrand. They're currently hyping a list top 25 brands in New England, with the obvious sales pitch that they're going to help your firm be just as successful. Their website is certainly engaging, but they're selling snake oil because it's not possible to create a brand through anything that's typically done under the name of branding.

Let's start with the truth. Brand is ALWAYS the reflection of four things:

  1. The quality of your products and services. (50%)
  2. The way you treat your customers. (40%)
  3. The way that you treat your employees.(5%)
  4. How well you manage your corporate finances. (5%)
You can call all that stuff "branding" if you like, but that's stretching the concept of branding far beyond the responsibility (and ability) of the marketing group and the people they hire (like Protobrand.) Frankly, I think all the energy put into "branding" is simply a waste of mental energy.

For example, here's how Protobrand defines brand naming:

Great names aren't merely labels. They can make or break products. There's no question Hollywood gets this. Bet you don't know who Noah Kaminsky is? Neil Diamond. How about Betty Perske? That's Lauren Bacall. Duane Douglas Johnson? The Rock. Names have the power to persuade. With over 20,000 newly registered names each week, stakes in the name game have risen considerably.
This is perfect example of reasoning after the fact. It wasn't Neil Diamond's name that made him; it was his talent. Same thing with Bacall and Johnson. This isn't to say that it's not a good idea to dump a weird name. For instance, "Fuking Tool Company" (a real name) just ain't gonna fly in the U.S. of A. But beyond that, the brand name is irrelevant. Apple, for example, would be the same company if it were name Walnut or SteveCo. It's all about the product, not the name.

Here's how Protobrand defines brand marks (logos):

The crux of the dilemma is this: you need to be acceptable AND different. Competing for attention is a primary goal of your logo or brand mark. Unfortunately, human nature, through five million years of evolutionary pressure, is such that people view successful behavior as what everyone else does. Avoiding petting sabertooth tigers was a good idea, and when copied by others produced positive outcomes, so to speak. In contrast, success in design relies on going against this ingrained behavior of doing what others have found successful. In fact, in today's marketplace, standing out from the crowd is the best way not to be someone else's lunch.
WTF is that supposed to mean? Seriously, WTF? This is a perfect example of the kind of idiocy that comes out of marketing groups that focus on branding as a separate discipline. Nobody EVER bought ANYTHING because they liked the logo. In fact, in some cases, logo SPAM is a good way to get your product OUT of the running. (See Brand Logos Make Product Look Cheap.)

Here's more from the Protobrand site:

Brands today provide people with more than mere signs of wealth or intelligence or beauty. They are cultural resources that people tap into in order to help define themselves. Brands serve to close the gap between a person's ideal self and actual self. People tattoo logos on their body now as a form of self-expression. In developing product names, logos, or even a brand's voice, the creative process must be driven by a full awareness of the powerful role brands play in society's collective consciousness.
Uh, no. "People" do not tattoo logos on their bodies. Idiots tattoo logos on their bodies. And only an idiot could possibly think that the overwhelming flood of brand and logo SPAM has any meaning to anybody other than a company trying to sell branding services.

Look, I believe that brand is important. But I also know that you can't create a brand with branding, and the specifics expression of the brand (name, logo, etc.) is relatively insignificant. As long as they're not glaringly stupid, pretty much any brand name and logo will work as a focus for the emotions created by the four factors I identified above.

So save yourself some money. Rather than hiring Protobrand, just use this free tool:

Combine the brand you created with great products and services, treat your customers well, and take care of the business, and you'll have a great brand. Without paying some absurd amount of money to listen to hours of brand marketing codswallop.

Trust me.