When I read articles in trade journals that start with the sentence "Branding is not important", I want to know what is behind the hyperbole. An article in this month's issue of Media magazine by Andrew Ettinger comes on strong to make the case that far too much is made of branding and that we need to think more about "The Sell". Of course, I disagree. Probably my greatest issue with his argument is that it continues to perpetuate the misunderstanding of what branding is and the role it plays and can play in this era of evolved media touchpoints. Here is a brief snippet of his article:
To assume “branding” is the most important factor in a purchase is to discount the role of pricing, distribution, and availability, among other factors. All too often, media departments don’t consider these factors. Even worse, agencies tend to blame them when sales decline — and discount them when sales increase.
In short, advertising suffers from an over-reliance on the idea of branding. If awareness were the only key to driving sales, supermarkets would look very different than they do. Instead, agencies must incorporate branding into a larger sales/marketing mix. It is not enough to make consumers aware of a product. The goal is to make them buy.
Branding is not simply making people aware of your product. It is much more than that. Branding is information. It is the full and robust picture of what the product is and can be to the consumer - what its tangible and intangible value is in the marketplace as well as culturally. If you don't frame media interactions as evolving feedback loops that fuel the brand you can't move to those other aspects of "the sale" such as price, distribution, availability etc. If you are overemphasizing issues such as price you have already lost the battle. Effective branding informs strategic pricing. It assures the highest margin by managing the value of the product. Value is not price. Consumers seek bargains on products they love. But they first must love those products if they are going to work hard to seek bargains on them. Quite often this love is still being cultivated at that moment a consumer picks up the ketchup bottle in the supermarket aisle. Is it organic? What is the sodium level? Do I trust it?
The key is getting the right information into the the media mix organically to differentiate in real-time. Leverage the fluidity of consumer choice through channels. Not simply push consumers from one media bucket to another and determine that as a metric. The space between consideration and buying has grown smaller and smaller due to the advances in technology. We live in the era of the long tail. Media needs to harness this with a broad palette of messaging that can only come from insights derived from - branding.
The basic rules of media analytics seeks to increase the probability of success for a product through interactions with the consumer. Branding is the information that allows the product to strategically achieve this goal. Technology allows for this information to evolve. It is always about brand. The trouble is that too many people misunderstand what branding is and the role it can play to improve channel experiences and a company's bottom line.