Sure, there are still some iconic brands. Apple, Nike, Coke.
But those are giant companies. They go by different rules.
For the rest of us mortals, does the traditional idea of a brand — an iconic emotional shortcut that lets customers identify with a product — make any sense anymore?
Won’t smart, lean, agile little companies eat the big, lazy brands up?
After all, a village business doesn’t need a brand, right?
Well . . .
The direct marketing view
A lot of direct marketers like to mock branding and “awareness” advertising as a self-indulgent waste of time.
Brilliant direct response copywriters like Eugene Schwartz and Gary Bencivenga were master harpooners. They only had one shot at their prospect, and that’s all they needed to create millions of dollars in sales.
They didn’t need a “brand halo” to make their products look good. Their copywriting created a complete experience within a single brightly-colored envelope. To rely on a brand to do the selling for you was almost . . . cheating.
The blogger’s view
Bloggers, too, like to mock brands.
Artificial. Out of touch. Irrelevant. Fake emotions created by cynical corporations to manipulate the gullible.
Except the iPhone, obviously. That’s just, well, better.
The ad agency’s view
From the eyes of a good ad agency, the above views are held by sad, shabby people with bad haircuts. In other words, people who Just Don’t Get It.
If you do get it, you start by articulating the components of your brand identity. From there you build a brand platform, a brand vocabulary, a brand manifesto, and/or a brand bible. Then you’re ready to message a cohesive brand vision of your brand’s identity across a variety of channels until you can reliably generate some decent brand awareness and maybe even some day achieve a brand halo.
I actually love working with ad agencies, except when I want to shoot them.
I have long been a fan of Seth Godin’s definition of a brand: “a promise made over time.”
Those of us who are wordier than Seth would probably be tempted to elaborate, something like “a promise made, kept, and believed over time.”
Does it work for Apple? They promise breakthrough design and stylish, user-friendly products that will make you cooler just by owning them.
Does it work for Copyblogger? We promise practical advice on the smartest ways to build online business, make your blog more successful, and create competitive advantage by pairing social media with traditional direct response copywriting.
Does it work for a solo business? Let’s imagine a fictional Etsy vendor selling hand-woven organic baby blankets. They might promise soft, safe materials you’ll feel good about wrapping your baby in, colors that venture beyond boring pink and blue, and fantastic funky packaging that makes them a pleasure to give as gifts. They promise that you can be a mama (or papa) without turning into some tedious Stepford Parent. They promise handmade quality and a human connection.
Your brand is not your blog header
Quit thinking of brands in terms of logos or typefaces or what a particular shade of blue communicates to your customer.
You can make decisions about those things after you know what promise you’re going to make over time.
To work as a brand, a promise has to be exciting. It has to mean something to your potential customer. It has to turn everyone on — you and them.
So what promise do you make with your blog, site, or business? Let us know in the comments.