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Is This the End of Branding?

September 18th, 2006 by Bob Bly

According to a survey by Third Deep Marketing, the two biggest challenges U.S. marketers say they are facing are (1) knowing that there’s a payback for marketing dollars spent and (2) generating profitable lead flow for sales.

I submit that direct response meets both of these challenges — and branding contributes not at all to the first and marginally to the second.

So is branding obsolete? Or does it still have enormous value — and if so, what is its contribution to marketing results?


This entry was posted on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 6:43 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

48 responses about “Is This the End of Branding?”

  1. Michael Stelzner said:

    Hey Bob;

    Branding is still very much alive in the consumer marketing world. Take one of the biggest brands — Apple. Without their enormous campaigns, the iPod would not be number one.

    However, since you mentioned lead generation, I assume you are talking about business-to-business marketing. Traditional marketing rules do not apply here.

    Trust building might be a replacement for branding. It is more important to build a feeling of trust that will entice someone to become a lead. Flash alone will not do it and often it will deter prospects from action.

    Yet, a consistent brand identity is still valuable.


  2. Chris Lake said:

    I don’t think branding will ever become obsolete, but vacuous brand campaigns–in Mike’s words, “flash alone”–are obsolescent. We all know that actions speak louder than words, and we demand results for our dollars.

    A brand that is linked to excellence in quality, service, and satisfaction is valuable (e.g., Mercedes). I submit, however, that the brand itself will evolve from the company’s outputs. We can focus on building brand awareness but I believe decisionmakers will generally focus on the bottom line, not the logo on the business card.

  3. Sean Woodruff said:

    Michael, why do you assume Bob is talking about B-B when he mentions lead generation? I generate thousands of leads a month in the B-C world. All through DM.

    I believe branding is a bi-product of good direct marketing. Branding evolves over time and good direct marketing provides the company with the time it takes to build a brand in the marketplace. Once the brand is built the same direct marketing becomes even more effective.

    That said, I’m the VP of a company that has been in business in a very specific niche for more than 12 years and the “brand” may not be known to many that are asked about it. Once again, DM has to carry the weight of revenue production through customer creation.

    This market is constantly changing, evolving, moving to different degrees, so a typical branding campaign doesn’t mean anything. Targeted DM hits the market where they stand at any given point in time.

    So, to answer the question, is branding dead? Not as long as there are branding experts selling it. I mean, if you walk into a steak house, and you know they serve the best full blown steak dinner in the world, and they only offer you the salad, you may not feel too fulfilled. On the other hand, if you’re hungry, and you have no idea that they serve great steaks, you’ll take anything you can get.

  4. SpongeBob Fan said:

    I hate the whole stupid concept of branding. I’m IN advertising, and I hate how way too many agencies throw “branding” around because they know they can get clients to spend a lot of money on something that can never be measured.

    Clients think they know what they’re talking about when they use the word – I’ve never had ONE that could explain what it meant to me. (Mostly they sum up all their advertising/marketing efforts & chores under the branding banner … I often think because they think it sounds more important that way.)

    If you have something physical, I guess you can “build a brand” around it because there’s something specific for people to ask for and walk away with. It’s a lot harder with services. A guy wrote a whole book about the difficulty of “Selling The Invisible.” One of the major problems with “building a brand” around soft services? Not enough points of differentiation between the various providers.

    The post-er above was absolutely correct – consistently get the word out about what you do, and the branding will take care of itself. (Great question, Bob.)

  5. Eric Graham said:

    Unfortunately as long as slick Madison Ave. types can keep duping companies with deep pockets into billion dollar, feel good ad spending, I doubt we will ever see the end of traditional “branding”.

    Although anything that wakes marketers up and makes them demand accountability for their marketing dollars is good news in my book.

    However, I agree with Sean… Branding is simply a byproduct of effective direct response.

    Eric Graham

  6. Nick Wright said:

    Hey SpongeBob Fan, I feel your hate.

    The word “Branding” is used far too often by ad folks with big creative ego’s.

    I’m not saying branding’s a bad thing, it just needs to evolve on its own.

    In this day and age of wired consumers, where the mindset is “click and close”… advertising better be relevant. If it’s relevant, then branding can take place naturally.

  7. J Bernard said:

    Yes, “branding” is a word that is overused, and has come to mean everything, and thus has come to mean nothing. Branding is creating a promise, and fulfilling that promise. The tag lines and logos simply invoke a reaction to the brand…they aren’t the brand, which exists in the mind of the consumer. Branding, done right, it has great value – as products and services become commoditized (think computer chips or financial services), brand is what helps tip the scale. How do you measure? Surveys are great at indicating brand recognition and what consumers are feeling about those brands.

  8. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Computer chips I’ll give you, but – with the possible exception of American Express – I can’t think of one financial services company that has a reliably-good “brand.”

    (And AMEX’s is fading as people don’t rely on their “hard product” travellers checks nearly as much any more.) IMHO

  9. Coonawarra said:

    Hi Folks,

    Brands are valuable constructs, that value can be measured. Take a walk over to Interbrand and check out their brand valuation report for 2006. If you are suspicious by nature and would distrust brand value numbers provided by a well, branding agency, I suggest that you look at some interesting research that actually quantifies brand value:

    Madden, T. J., Fehle, F., & Fournier, S. (2006). Brands Matter: An Empirical Demonstration of the Creation of Shareholder Value Through Branding. Academy of Marketing Science. Journal, 34(2), 224.’s brand value is about 39% that of Google’s. Google is a service brand, Amazon actually sells stuff. Interesting, that.

    This is not to say that there isn’t value in the comments above. “Branding” as a concept is overused and the practice is full of people that haven’t a clue what they’re doing. However, the next time you see some kid paying upwards of $80 for a Nike shoe that cost less than $3 to manufacture, ask yourself what the value of the brand is, and whether it’s worth it to look after it.

    One last thing. All businesses have a brand, whether those brands evolve by accident or are planned and nurtured is up to the brand owner.


  10. Dianna Huff said:

    The best book I read about branding is called “TechnoBrands” by Chuck Pettis. It’s a bit dated now (written in 1995) but the basic premise of what is a brand and why branding is important is still relevant.

    According to Pettis, a brand is:
    ** The sensory, emotive, and cultural proprietary image surrounding a company or product
    ** An assurance of quality, making selection worry-free
    ** A significant source of competitive advantage and future earnings
    ** A promise of performance
    ** An enhancement of perceived value and satisfaction through associations that remind and entice customers to use the product
    ** Arguably, a company’s most important asset

    A few pages later he says, “For every impact, good or bad, that the brand has on customers, the company and product receive it back with interest.”

  11. SpongeBob Fan said:

    “All businesses have a brand, whether those brands evolve by accident or are planned and nurtured is up to the brand owner.”

    I’ve heard this a lot, and have to say I respectfully disagree. Most local businesses and most service businesses have no brand at all, and it hardly seems to matter.

    To my mind, Diana Huff has hit the nail on the head with her quote about “an assurance of quality, making selection worry free.” It matters a lot more with a world-wide manufacturer or retailer than with the bbq place down the street from my office.

    Most businesses would be better off developing a few specialities than spending thousands trying to imprint their “brand” (from their “branding statement”!) on someone’s (very full) brain. IMHO

    In “Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads,” Roy Williams says that branding is “the implantation of associative memories.” But that’s advertising too.

    On reflection, I don’t think Amazon has a “brand” at all. People just recognize their name.

  12. Dianna Huff said:

    SpongeBob, I think Amazon does have a brand. In his book, Pettis talks quite a bit about the relationship one has with various companies. Each time you use a product or a company’s service, you build a brand association — good or bad.

    I’ve used Amazon since the very beginning and have to say I’ve not had one negative experience with them. I receive my books on time and unlike other bookstores, I can easily sell my gently used books to other Amazon customers or sell new books on my blog or Website.
    And, I love their customer reviews!

  13. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Hi, Diana (and I’m a big fan of yours, BTW) — the sentence from above works just as well without the word “brand” in there … “Each time you use a product or a company’s service, you build a brand association — good or bad.”

    I hardly care what a business thinks of themselves or what they they I should think about them — it only matters to me that they keep their promises and I can be reasonably assured that doing business with them is not going to be an expensive, time-consuming waste of time.

    (As I said above, this is a great and juicy topic. “Branding” sounds so much sexier than “keeping your explicit and implied promises, and not being a pest.”)

  14. Rob Swanson said:

    I think “branding” and “identity” are considered interchangeable when they are not. A brand is a repeatable, dependable, emotionally-bonding experience. The EXPERIENCE is a brand; the visual aspects are identity. IMO, branding is extremely important and the identity should support it. Identity advertising without the experience to back it up is a hollow promise. I’ve had pretty good success with this with my handful of clients who accept the definitions. They stop focusing on the identity and truly develop a brand, then we sell the brand – that is the experience – and it works.

  15. Ryan Healy said:

    Branding should be a byproduct of direct response advertising.

    I was reading Joe Sugarman this morning. For a long time, he didn’t put his name on his JS&A ads. But as people came to recognize his voice, he began using a byline.

    It seemed to increase readership to see his name and the JS&A logo. Why? Because his readers had had enough positive interactions with him (or “impressions”) that they anticipated his ads.

    This, I think, is the power of a brand.

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