I’ve always had a problem with branding. All this talk of a “brand promise” and a “relationship” the company has with me never resonated with me as a consumer, which is then all tied into advertisements–you know, those things that get in the way of me watching what I want to watch. The whole thing just rubs me the wrong way. If feels like we left the marketing people alone for too long, and they started actually believing Don Draper, and suddenly everything is about the brand promise, and the actual product doesn’t seem to matter, even though that’s what I really care about.
Of course, I do understand that marketing and sales are not all about logic and product features. I heard a very good speaker on branding show how certain brands connect to deep, gut feelings that we have, even before they talk about product details. Nike, for instance, almost always has certain elements in its commercials, connecting to an athlete who sees him or herself as someone who gets up early, puts in more effort, always experiences pain and that moment they want to quit, but decides to keep going and in the end, of course, emerges victorious.
I get it. I am an athlete, and those ads do actually connect to me. I have those feelings, and being an athlete (even though I don’t compete with anyone but myself) is important to me. Congratulations, Nike branding people, you triggered those feelings that the ads were designed to trigger.
But there’s one more detail: Nikes don’t fit my feet. They never have. I tried them when I was in high school, and I hated running in them. I ran in Adidas for years, and now I’m with Asics. They are comfortable, and I don’t get injured when I run in them. Done.
The speaker also showed ads for BMW and Grey Goose–neither of which were REALLY about the product, and more about middle-aged guys living the good life and being attractive to hot women. I get it. Those ads connect to those feelings that middle-aged guys have, and it’s sub-conscious really. No one literally thinks that drinking Grey Goose is directly connected to owning a yacht in the caribbean and having a swimsuit-model girlfriend. But it connects to something deep inside you, so the next thing you know, you find yourself at the bar ordering Grey Goose, perhaps even remembering their tag line: The world’s best tasting vodka. Another victory for the brand people.
Except that Grey Goose doesn’t taste that good. It did win one taste test, but lost two others to Smirnoff. How do I know this? The internet, of course. And this gets us down to the important lesson here (sorry for taking so long): Connecting with my basic desires as a brand may matter, but now we all have access to the truth, I think the truth matters just a bit more.
Your branding efforts may get you in the game, but if your product or service is lacking, you’ll be quickly booted out. Now, this may not be true with vodka and some other products. Vodka, after all, is just a couple of steps removed from rubbing alcohol, and serves a purpose that is not really related to taste anyway, so perhaps the rules are different in that game. But if you make a running shoe, it better give people lots of pain-free miles (which I’m sure Nike does for lots of people, just not me, but that’s my feet’s fault, not Nike’s). If you make a performance automobile, it better corner like it’s on rails and give the driver a feel for the road (which BMW does, or did a few years ago anyway; I can’t afford them any more).
And if you are a nonprofit association who was listening to the branding guy talk about the three deep desires that conference attendees consistently talk about (tenacity, self-doubt, and risk taking), then I beg of you to be careful about what you do with that advice. If you double down on your branding efforts, and start attracting more attendees because you successfully connected to these three areas, please make sure that your conference actually delivers. Don’t tap into my desire to take risks or wake up my tenacity, and then offer me the same 101 content I got last year. Don’t scare me by implying I might be falling behind my professional colleagues if I miss this great event, and then bring in a keynote speaker whose book is 10 years old.
I don’t want your brand promise. I want your reality. So please make it good.