Promo Workshop

The Trouble With Branding

Ah, Branding. I’ve finally put two and two together about you.

I see now that whenever companies have blown huge amounts of time and money trying to revamp their image... well… you were there!

You promise so much, don’t you Branding. But you deliver so very little.
What’s that Branding? It not your fault?!!? You’re misunderstood?!!?

Oh! Branding. What a delicious irony. It appears you have a bad brand.

the real culprit

With so many books on branding out there; with so many brand agencies; and so many brand consultants, you’d think the subject would have been well and truly baked to perfection by now. However, all the numerous brand experts seem to have done is made the topic even more confusing.

Whenever management fads bloom, you can find any number of cowboys who rush into the field to make a quick buck. And this happened (and continues to happen) in spades with brands and branding.

By necessity, these snake oil hucksters have turned what is an outrageously easy, simple and fundamental business process into a major source of disappointment for companies.

In my experience, that disappointment stems from failed brand campaigns.

Here’s how it works. The agency is somehow able to convince the business to spend a very, very large amount of money on some kind of artistic, touchy-feely series of ads. Even with a low media spend, the ads are promised to “go viral” and magically change the hearts and minds of the audience and propel the business into mega-profitability.

Of course, they usually end up doing absolutely nothing.

Other than bewildering the audience; further distancing them from the company.
Oh, and maybe winning the agency an award.

The aftermath of a failed brand campaign can last for years, if not decades; making it impossible in the future to even mention "the B word."

At worst you get this response:
“Branding? We tried that. It didn’t work.”
At best:
“Let’s get the basics in place, and we’ll get around to branding later.”

You know what’s really tragic about these comments? It’s not that the companies embarrassingly lost a stack of money. Not that somebody's reputation was blotted.

What’s really telling is that comments like these prove that after all the heartache and financial pain, the business still doesn’t even understand what branding is. They reveal a belief that somehow Branding is a secondary concern.

It's not. Branding is fundamental.

how fundamental?

Allow me an analogy.
Let’s say you have a kid at school who is getting picked on.
What do you do about it?

Clearly, "nothing" is not an option. But you’d be amazed at how many businesses are out there in the marketplace of public opinion, whose identities are copping an absolute walloping, but the management refuse to do anything about it.

Okay.. it would be fair to say there is what you might call a "perception problem" ... that the bullies at school (somehow) think it's okay for them to taunt your child. But, of course, if you could change that perception, then the bullying would stop, right?

So how do you do that?
Changing the kid's name wouldn't make any difference, would it?
Neither would providing the kid with a different coloured schoolbag.

Naturally, you could report the bullies; and/or support education and awareness campaigns that set out to show that "bullying is not okay".
But this kind of thing happens already, and meanwhile your kid is still being picked on, in ever more devious and subtle ways.

Ultimately, the only real resolution will come from changing how your child behaves and reacts to the bullies. Building your child's confidence is the key.
It might take something like Karate lessons and breaking a bully's nose.

And it's really only after that kind of event that your child would have had what could be described as a "rebrand".

Sure, this new brand will require maintenance. There will be other situations that test this new position. But the new brand will have been established.

Of course it would have been better for your child to have had the self confidence to have put the bullies in their place before it became a problem.

But your brand is a result of what you do. How you behave and how you act.
It's not just about what you say, or how you look.

the moral of the story

• Your brand is your identity... it's what other people think and feel you are.
It happens because of (or in spite of) your efforts to define it.

Every thing/person has a brand.
They might like it, they may not like it.

Every company has a brand.
It may be commercially useful.
It may be commercially detrimental.

• You mostly always inherit a brand,
you rarely get to start from scratch.

• A brand is a process
of defining/changing the perception of your identity.
It takes a lot of soul-searching and preparation.

• It takes action for that to happen.
It’s what you DO that matters, not what you say.

• A business not interested in branding
might as well be a business not interested in products or customers.

People are simply not going to buy from a company they don't like.
Your image is crucial.

a television case study

TV promos (like may creative pursuits) is one of those businesses where rejection is commonplace. There’s no way around it. The business feeds on ideas, but the vast majority of those ideas get flushed directly down the toilet. You just have to get used to it, or go work in banking, or similar.

But nothing, NOTHING, gets rejected faster than a brand campaign!

A few years back Australian subscription TV provider Foxtel launched what's become infamously known as the "Rolling Man" campaign.
(shown below, as long as the link works!)

The ad is shot in stop-frame animation, and it sees a guy rolling lengthways through a variety of exotic and artfully constructed scenes and scenarios.
It has a very deliberate YouTube-style handmade flavour.

Let me say, I actually really, really like this spot. It was something very different from the retail assault that Foxtel were blasting its audience with at the time.

However, the ad was sold to the management as a "brand campaign".

A lot of eggs went into this one basket. The spot (obviously) cost a fortune to produce and screen. Worst of all, it was promised that the campaign would revolutionise the image if the entire company, spelling the end of phone numbers and "hurry, act now" calls to action.

The problem was that the artistic values depicted in the ad did not reflect in any way the values of actual service, which simply carried on as usual.

The ad itself was ignored by subscribers and caused confusion with non-subscribers. Within weeks Foxtel returned to its "retail-based" hype.

The Rolling Man example, and many more like it, is the reason why branding has a bad brand. It's not what you say, it's what you do. And that doing has to happen consistently over the whole business over many years.

When the tipping point happens, it appears to happen quickly; but it takes a lot of soul-searching and preparation in advance.

It can't just happen with one ad. Of course, that's not to say there aren't successful ads. I dunno, like this. But one successful ad doesn't a branding campaign make; unless the values presented in the ad reflect the values of the whole company; and are sustained over time; and maintained across every outlet of the business.

but don't take my word for it
no, really... don't.

So now you know how something as simple as branding became so outrageously complicated. How something so fundamental to basic business operation seemingly became relegated to the dustbin of management history, alongside other fads like mission statements and six sigma.

If I were your management, and someone proposed the Rolling Man to me, then I'd say "no way" too.

However, it would be a great shame to not go through the real process of branding; simply because your company misunderstands it, or had a bad experience with it.

Real branding is about defining who you are; and how you will get your customers to believe that.

It's that simple.

Not only do you not need a consultant; you have to do it yourself.
(I can, of course, point you in the right direction.) (tugs collar)

In any case, the process needs to be owned by everyone from the CEO down to the receptionist; if it isn't, it just aint branding.

If your management aren't even going to allocate the time to even try; then yes, join the club, your company probably misunderstands the definition of "management" too.


Charley Holland is a content creator with 30 years experience in the TV industry. He is reasonably underwhelmed by social media, which is why you can find him on Facebook; LinkedIn; Twitter; Google+

©2013 The Charley Holland Agency