Brand Marketing = Dead-End Career

Last Updated Apr 5, 2010 12:44 PM EDT

Earlier this week, I posted a commentary on the declining power brand marketing to drive buying behavior. That post elicited a number of comments, which tended to be repetitive rather thans substantive. So, rather than answer them individually and piecemeal, I thought I'd just post answers in a group:
  • Generic comment #1: You're saying that brand doesn't matter.
  • My response: No, I'm saying that the proliferation of brands, resulting from a lower cost of entry in brand marketing on the Internet has diluted the ability of brands to create consumer preference.
  • Generic comment #2: You're saying that branding never works.
  • My response: No, I'm saying that the Internet provides an alternative vehicle for consumers to share their experiences with a product, trumping the ability of companies to define their brand using traditional brand marketing techniques such as advertising, logo placement, etc. The net effect of the Internet on the branding has been to make the customer experience paramount; it now weighs much more heavily than anything a company's marketing group can say or do.
  • Generic comment #3: You're saying that companies shouldn't brand their products.
  • My response: No, I'm saying that brands exist and are still important, but that brands are now created almost exclusively by the customer experience rather than anything that the marketing group can say or do. Obviously, you it's helpful to have a cool product or company name, but the impact of that is going to be far less than in the past. Therefore, when it comes to creating a positive brand image, investing in brand marketing (beyond the bare essentials) is probably less efficient than investing in other elements of the business model.
  • Generic comment #4: Brand marketing consists of everything that a company does.
  • My response: Redefining the terminology is just a way of trying to change the subject. By "brand marketing" I'm referring to the activities that marketing groups actually do. I'm well aware that marketing groups like to take credit for the activities of other groups (e.g. pretending that "marketing drives sales" or that "market requirements drive product design"), and that marketers use the term "brand marketing" as an umbrella term to help capture that credit. I'm not playing that game, so please stop trying to blur the issues by extending marketing's turf beyond the limits of marketing's budget.
  • Generic comment #5: Companies like Coke, Apple and Sony spend lot of money on brand marketing.
  • My response: Those brands were built, not on brand marketing (i.e. the stuff that their marketing group did), but on the customer experience. While they obviously publicize their brand, the source of the brand is the experience, not the publicity attached to it. When those companies fail to create a good customer experience (i.e yucky-tasting New Coke, Apple TV), their products don't sell, thereby illustrating the point that the power of the brand isn't related to the brand marketing associated with it, but rather to the underlying product.
  • Generic comment #6: You're just a sales guy who doesn't understand marketing.
  • My response: In fact, I was responsible for software product branding for a software division of a Fortune 50 company and won awards for my work. I've branded products, bought advertising, created other materials, handled press conferences, worked with analysts and reports, and everything else that brand marketers do. Beyond that, I've been writing detailed featured articles about marketing in major business publications for 16 years and have interviewed hundreds of marketing executives, and have been a contributing analyst covering marketing for a fairly significant market research firm.
And as long as we're talking about experience, I might also add that, when I was in marketing, I pretended that the engineering group was actually listening when we presented our marketing requirements, and pretended that our marketing efforts were "driving sales". I was also involved in presentations to top management where the CMO claimed credit for the successes of those groups (engineering and sales) and distanced us from their failures.

And I've watched, with great amusement, the same tricks being played inside numerous organizations -- and seen the results. In short, I know all the tricks; you can't fool me with with the B-school biz blab about branding, because I've been there, done that, and brought home the t-shirt.

I realize that it drives some of you nuts that I'm telling tales out of school and revealing what all brand marketers know, in their hearts, is true, which is that the brand marketing emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

Now, I sympathize with the fact that my revealing this truth will make it harder for you to hit up your corporate masters for budget dollars but, frankly, I'm doing this entirely for YOUR OWN GOOD. If you're in brand marketing, you're sitting on the railroad tracks with a great big train headed your way.

It's not because of some blogger poking holes in your value proposition. I'm just the messenger and, what's more, I'm only the messenger to you guys, not to the people who pay your salary who, believe me, ain't readin' this blog. They're coming to the same conclusions, drawing on the same data that I'm sharing with you.

So you've got two choices. You can take the warning and change your career so that you're involved in the growth segment of marketing -- tactical stuff and quant work -- or you can keep pretending that the "brand marketing" boondoggle is going to keep working forever.

I saw the same train coming a few years ago when it was freelance journalism sitting on the tracks. I changed my business model way before my competition and I am not only at the top of my field, I actually made more money during the recession than I had in previous eight years.

So, folks, the brand marketing jig is almost up. You need to adapt or get fired. But don't blame me for pointing out the fact that train is coming, because I'm the guy warning you, not the guy writing up your walking papers.