Brand = Emotion about Product

Last Updated Apr 28, 2010 4:37 PM EDT

Earlier this week, I posted the "Worst Brand Disasters of the Decade". For that post, I selected two examples from the religion industry ("Islam" and "The Pope") and one example from the political industry ("Bush"). Predictably, those selections got some shorts in a twist because some people don't want to think about branding taking place in those arenas.

In the case of organized religion, people forget that, when you put aside the claims of supernatural revelation, organized religion is just another branch of the entertainment business. The goal of most organized religions is to grow market share and build yearly revenues, and to do that they use their "brand" to associate their product with the emotions that attract and keep customers.

The same is true of political parties and political dynasties. Their goal is to grow market share and build yearly revenues so they can continue to win elections, and (ultimately) make more money (or win more political power, which is essentially the same thing.)

The reason I selected those examples was not just because they were BIG disasters from a branding perspective, but because they illustrate quite nicely the most important elements of what branding is all about. Branding takes place when people associate an emotion with a product. Sometimes "brand marketing" (advertising, public relations, etc.) has an impact on that, but by far the most important factor is the PRODUCT.

The reason that "The Pope" is in trouble isn't because their marketing materials are weak or they don't do enough advertising on their real-estate holding, but because the product is a form of entertainment that depends upon people believing that the entertainers are representatives of God of earth. It's harder to do that when your main spokesperson -- who's probably a very nice man -- looks kinda creepy, and when your organization is getting dinged for letting pedophiles off the hook simply because they confessed and were repentant.

Same thing with the "Islam" brand. To any reasonable person, any religion that needs to propagate itself by threatening to kill people is, by definition, devoid of any real value. Insofar as the religious leaders of Islam have permitted and encouraged this way of thinking, they're creating a product that's inherently distasteful, which means that the "brand" is going to suffer.

Now, please note that because brand is an emotional attachment to a product, there are always going to be some people who become so emotionally attached to a product or a product line that they lose the ability to view it objectively. You see this with some people who love Apple products to the degree that they'll buy anything the company makes, even when it's a turkey. However, if an organization keeps producing turkeys, over time even those people eventually start defecting.

When it comes to the "Bush" brand, it's clear from the comments in the original post that there are still people who have bought into the Bush brand promise so deeply that they're incapable of admitting that the Bush presidency was basically a disaster. Such die-hards are such "brand fanatics" that they don't even notice that almost the entire Republican party believes the Bush screwed up, which is why there's no "draft another Bush" movement in the positioning for the next presidential race.

What does this have to with sales, you might ask? Everything.

Your ability to sell a product or service will always be limited and delimited by the emotions that people have when they think about the product (which also includes you, your firm and your industry).

For example, if you're in the middle of a brand disaster, the only people who will buy from you are the die hards.

That observation brings us to one of the other brands I criticized: "Wall Street." Right now the financial industry is desperately trying sell the idea that they don't need more government regulation. The deregulation die-hards in Congress (most of whom are Republicans but some of whom are Democrats) are the only ones "buying" the story, because they're wedded to the "Wall Street" brand promise, even though the overwhelming evidence is that deregulation set the conditions under which the meltdown took place.

For everyone else (including most of the constituents of the deregulation die-hards), the "Wall Street" brand is toxic and evil.

What this emphasizes is that selling is ultimately all about emotion. The brand sets the basic parameters of what you'll be able to sell and who's going to buy both your message and your offering. If you don't understand that, any attempt to sell will inevitably fall flat.

Because brand is an emotion reflection of product, it's crazy to think that you can "brand market" a company into having a new brand.

The brand disasters I cited in the original post are a case in point. You can put up thousands of posters and ads saying that "Islam Means Peace", but if the news is full of half-cocked, half-wits blowing up children in the name of Allah, nobody is going to buy it. Similarly, you can talk all day about the great good that the Catholic church is doing (and it does plenty), but until the Church cleans house and makes some major structural changes, it will continue to lose credibility.

Of all the disasters I cited, the only one that's handling the situation correctly is the Bush dynasty, which is wisely laying low until people forget about the mistakes of his presidency and start looking at his accomplishments. (Note that they're already applying the best spokesperson for this: Laura Bush.) The force of nostalgia and constant public service (he's a pretty good ex-president), will eventually clear the opprobrium, and I predict you'll see another Bush in national politics -- and winning too -- within 10 years.

That's the kind of thing that they've done at Eastman Kodak to refurbish their moribund brand. So it can be done, once you understand that, when you're dealing with brand, you're not dealing with how people FEEL about your product.