Kiss Your Brand Goodbye

Brands are becoming worth less, if not just plain worthless. That's the theme of a series of books out this year, the newest being "Branding Only Works on Cattle" excerpted on Change This. (update: it's not an excerpt, but an original piece drawn from the book). Author Jonathan Salem Baskin argues that brands are a 20th century quirk, and are about to go back to their traditional role: names.
Branding is a 100+ year-old conceit based on a specific context of community, culture, economics,
and technology that has long since disappeared. Today's market and mediasphere have little
resemblance to those of the Twentieth Century.
We live in a post-branded world.
He's highly readable, and his ten points for why branding are bad and what you can do about it contain some zingers. "There are no more trends, only moments," he says, describing the shattered attention spans of any particular person. Thus, "Taste Is No Longer a Trend."

To wit, "Subtlety Is Dead," he tells us. In part, that's because "People Are More Literal Now." They have to be, he says, because our wildly diverse culture means we no longer share much in the way of common experiences. That means we take branding more literally, and shun brands that spout falsehoods -- "No More Secret Codes," he says. It perhaps should go without saying that "Reality has Caught Up With Branding." Aptly, it follows both that "Repetition Risks Becoming Noise" and "Recognition Isn't the Same as relevance.

Both seem intuitive. Yet we continue to be bombarded by efforts to get brands in front of us, most of which we don't want to see. Except when it's time to buy something. "Choice Is Real-Time," he reminds us. Your brand message only matters at the moment of purchase. And forget about inspiring purchases through appealing to fantasy. He argues that "Virtual Experience Is the New Dreamscape."And, in a nod to social media, "Conversations Are Just the Beginning."

What to do about your brand? Start by forgetting about it, he says. He has 10 points on why and how:

  1. You Can't Brand Your Way Out of Reality (or, oil companies are not green).
  2. Say What You Meant To Say (why 'fashion' advertising fails)
  3. Everybody Is Selling a Service (you must figure out how to let even your one-time customers engage in dialogue with you)
  4. Shoot for the Moon, Not the Stars (small groups teach you more than mass markets)
  5. Integrate Over Time, Not on Content (integrated marketing is really repetition marketing).
  6. There's No Time Like Now (people aren't going to remember your message)
  7. Reality Has to Trump Virtual (your brand cannot replace what people actually experience)
  8. Kill Your Mascot (no one cares)
  9. No More Secret Codes (Google is making us stupid; people can find things, but they have trouble integrating and understanding what they find)
  10. Talk Is Cheaper than Ever Before (blog all you want, Mr. CEO, but have something to say)
So forget declaring a brand, and then delivering it to consumers. Ads don't matter anymore,
nor does anything else that somehow presents your brand. There is no continuum somewhere
"out there" to which your brand speaks, associates, or otherwise communicates.
Baskin is ahead of the market. We're not there yet. As Rob Walker's new book "Consumed" notes, advertising is not dead, though branding is clearly shifting. And Baskin clearly hasn't spent time being sucked into the reality of virtual worlds and social media, which are time sucks of the highest degree. They make a game of chess feel like the 100-yard dash.

Overall, though, this is a book that looks sure to knock branding down a notch. It couldn't happen to a more deserving piece of work.