Is Branding Dead?

image of rock climber

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.

Another view

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.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Comments

  1. My blog promises to show how to make the kinds of simple, delicious meals that you would expect from your grandmother, not from a trendy restaurant. It’s all from scratch, and I care about the quality of ingredients without being an activist about it.

    So far it’s working, with over 4,000 blog subscribers, another 2,000 mailing list subscribers for two different products, and ~200,000 visitors per month. And all those numbers have been on steady upward slopes all year.

  2. Brands can never die, although “Branding” might :)

    I like what Jeff Bezos of Amazon says about brands … that they are what is said about you when you are not in the room.

    Brands are created by what we say, but more important, what we do – what our customers, prospects and readers experience and say to their friends :)

  3. I promise to give authentic glimpses into a life that is seeking to find the eternal in everything…I promise to learn with you, not at you.

  4. We promise sharp-shooter skills that help you hit the bulls-eye of success and we back that up with right-there-with-you support and a friendly, casual style so that you always feel comfortable.

    Or something like that ;)

  5. IMO, Branding is an overrated buzzword. Replace the word “brand” with “reputation”, and you have a much clearer picture of what to focus on to make things better and what to stop doing if you want to improve.

  6. How about this: “You are your brand.”

    Short, sweet and simply the truth.

  7. Good post. I like the way the “Groundswell” folks put it (my paraphrase): “Your brand is not what YOU say it is. Your brand is what your AUDIENCE says it is.” So stay in touch with your audience and keep keeping your promises.

  8. Our brand promises the lowest prices possible. The cool thing is that we actually keep this promise (yes, it is a cliched and worn out promise, but we’ve been keeping it for over 40 years now). Our blog…well…I’m still trying to determine what promise I should be making to our readers. Any help?

  9. Sonia, I disagree with your statement that “Your brand is not your blog header”. I read a lot of blogs using Google Reader and the title of the Blog builds an association with what one expects the content to be.

    I can associate a person’s name with some of those blogs, but not all of them.

    It may not be true in all cases but I think that one’s blog header may well be one’s brand.

  10. I spent 30 years as an ad agency creative director, helping companies build brands. It was largely a one-way process. “We build the club, you (consumer) can join – if you follow our rules.”

    The really interesting thing is that today, brands are shaped by the consumer, the fan… or the detractors.

    Brands are still quite important, but today they’re created by democracy.

  11. I promise to help you get more people buy your stuff. :-)

    I once read a brand defined as “the likelihood a customer will buy from you again.” It makes sense, as a good brand allows the customer to connect with the brand itself, count themselves as part of the tribe, and desire to stay connected to that feeling.

    Just sayin’. :-)

  12. Brands are not dead, if the consumer has anything to do with it. I find it interesting that so often the brand thing is viewed tactically as logos and pieces of communication, when in reality its an emotional proposition. One that matters more than ever because consumers have submerged “rational” buying behavior in the face of over-choice and clutter. Wrote a post yesterday on this very point. Would be interested in your views!!

  13. Good branding is critical. Poor branding deserves to die.

    Great branding happens when a company does everything else right. Everything else is propaganda.

    However, in tough economies like the one we are in, it’s much harder to convince companies to promote their brand than it is to get direct response from advertising.

    Overall, I think it’s much smarter to immerse brands into our culture as completely as possible and guide their path through social interaction. Branding has a lot to do with that.

  14. I disagree that a brand is simply a promise made over time. It’s cute but too simplistic. For example, the brand promise made by Coca-Cola in the 1930s is different from the brand promise today. Look at many other established companies. They change the brand promise over time to meet economic and social needs. So is the Coke today different from the Coke of the 1930s? Well, the product is pretty much the same (I believe) but the way it’s marketed (the promise) is completely different.

    Marketing psychologists tend to believe that “brand” is about perception. In other words, your brand is what people perceive it to be. GM’s brand is much more about what people perceive it to be than about their (largely unkept) promises.

    So branding by Godin’s definition is dead, to answer your question. But the new definition of branding offers marketers much more power and flexibility to control brand perception.

  15. We promise to help startups refine their positioning and go-to-market strategy. We want them to get to market faster and waste fewer cycles “figuring it out”.

    Ultimately, I think that simple is best. Consistency is key. And you don’t need the ultimate brand ID when you start off – it will come if you keep to your promise.

  16. I agree to a certain extent. Personally I think the brand-consumer relationship will be more and more like a traditional social relationship. We will listen to each other, we will influence each other, we will transform each other. We like to make the promotion of our friends because we want to show everyone that our friends are amazing, right? It’s going to be the same with a brand. Sometimes we may get angry at one brand but with some effort we can make up! Unlike the relationship of a fan to a star, which may have existed between some fanatics and certain charismatic brands, now we are on an equal footing and we need to understand each other to sustain the relationship.

  17. @Drew, I love that, perfect example IMO.

    @Roger, sure, but per the fourth sentence of the post, the rules are different for Coke than they are for the readers of this blog.

    @Mike Drips, I’d say that the header stands for the brand in that case, that it helps the reader make the association, “oh yeah, that’s the blog I like.” The header is, imo, a tool to help you remember the brand.

  18. Branding:

    “Keep doing a good job, then remind people about it.”

  19. I’ll continue to believe that the brand lives on, however – I think they are getting smaller – the personal brand, the microbrand. Even in big corps, there are individuals that stand out from the overall brand – people like Scoble when he was at MSFT, or Frank Eliason when he built comcastcares – their personal reputation almost supplants the bigger brand – but it is still a carefully crafted thing.

    @mike drips – I agree there, I wonder what % of blogs are now read in the RSS reader – the only thing that signals a brand/reputation is the title and the writing… attention spans are so short that often it is just the header and the post title.

  20. I think that in these days on intense web competition, branding is vital. It’s not very useful for getting your foot in the proverbial door, but if you want people to remember you and not be easily forgotten in such a huge crowd, branding helps people recognize you and remember who you are.

    The domain for my next large project (a site, not a blog) was chosen purely because it “sounded good”. I know it won’t necessarily bring in more traffic, but it will hopefully keep them coming back. People whom helped me adjust my logo are already curious about it and “peering over my shoulder” so-to-speak to see what’s up.

  21. There are a couple of points here I really like, and they’ve got me thinking.

    Branding is what you say about yourself. Brand is what other people say about you. So it’s a measure of how well your message is sticking.

    And the way you make it stick is with consistency. If your customer service people aren’t giving the same message — making the same promise — as your marketing, then you don’t have a strong brand.

    A great example of a “mixed” brand is Microsoft. Their marketing department and their legal department don’t give the same message.

  22. “Is Branding Dead?” Great use of controversial title to draw in readers. Didn’t you just teach us about that a few days ago? Branding isn’t dead if you ask friends @garyvee and Dan Schawbel.

    We presented a social media strategy to a customer yesterday after listening to him in various different meetings. We took his words, his ethics, his competitive advantage and turned it into the core message for his social media strategy. He’s an award winner in his industry and already at the top. He already had a brand but wasn’t maximizing it in his marketing message online. We turned it into a branding strategy and used a pretty picture to illustrate it. It was him…his…a brand that he had worked hard to develop over years of hard work. It’s how people and customers see him.

    Is Branding Dead? Call it whatever you want (HALO, Blah-Blah-Blah) but company image and a consistent message whether your a BIG DOG or a little dog is what ties your customers to you. And by the way, the same consistent message drives employee loyalty and keeps employees on track and working together cohesively.

    Nope, it’s not dead and it’s more important than ever as competition get fiercer in our current economic landscape.

    Just sayin’

    @aaswartz

    Thanks again for the lesson Sonia. BTW, will you be coming to Blog World? I met Brian last year (by accident I might add). It would be my pleasure to meet you!

  23. Sing it, Angie! I love that process–not “creating” a brand, but uncovering it and figuring out how to get it across. (I would say the odds of me being at Blogworld are about 70%. I’ll keep you posted!)

    I was thinking about Roger’s comment, and I gave it short shrift when I shouldn’t have. He makes a terrific point that the brand promise will almost certainly evolve over time, especially if you’re fortunate enough to have a company that’s in business over many decades. I don’t want to lose sight of the point, though, that branding for a megabrand like Coke is a very nuanced, complex affair, and has a lot of components that just aren’t applicable to a village business.

    @Kristine, thanks for making an important point — you don’t have to start off with a “perfect” understanding of your own brand promise. These things need some time to mature and evolve.

  24. This is a great article – I don’t want what I’m about to say to indicate it’s not, because there is wonderful food for thought in here for anyone, from small biz to large company.

    The reason a lot of bloggers minimize the importance of branding, I think, is because they are not brand identity designers. I am, and I see “personal branding” in a wholly different light than 85% of the people who talk about it and write about it. We often criticize what we don’t understand (human nature, we just can’t relate to it) and a lot of people are in a position where they are known online, due to having a unique voice, but they don’t really have the resources or understanding of crafting that tangible image in addition to the very important elements of reputation & presence that they may have mastered. (Or that came somewhat naturally to them.) A brand image extends far beyond our blogs, and most people are in need of the same items any business needs to portray themselves as professionally as possible – or at least make a killer impression!

    If you assemble a unique set of graphics for business cards, stationary, notecards, merchandise (hats & t’s, etc.) and complement your blog design with these elements, you’ll stand out in a crowd of folks who are only recognizable by their faces/online persona. That’s what branding is about to me, and as such it will never be dead in my world. It’s the reason clients hire me to do anything for them, whether they realize that or not.

  25. Funny, I was just discussiong this over coffee this morning. “Branding” as a discipline is alive and well. It had better be, or I need a new job!

    But “branding” as a corporate flavour-of-the-month is, to quote Miracle Max from Princess Bride, “mostly dead”, and looking deader all the time. Marketing departments still care, but CEOs and CFOs seem to have moved on.

  26. Personal branding is definitely alive and well. The brand “copyblogger.com” always tells me to expect something good on my RSS feed.

    If you’re a reader, think of one of your favorite currently-productive authors, such as Stephen King. If he puts out something new, chances are that you’ll buy it and like it because of his implicit “promise over time.” That’s one thing I hope to achieve sometime with my writing.

  27. Of course branding isn’t dead, nor will it ever be dead. If branding was dead, Microsoft and Yahoo wouldnt’ve spent $100 million each on their own respective advertising campaigns.

    For those of us who lack the financial resources to buy mind share through the communication of value propositions and cool/sexy images, it’s important to scale down the scope of our branding efforts.

    I agree with Seth and Sonia’s definition of branding as a more long-term investment. What’s the cardinal rule of tech development? Typically, you can only have two of the following: money, resources or time. In the absence of money and resources, all we have as individual business people is to establish our brand over a period of time.

  28. Sonia, as always you deliver with thoughtful posts that make me think.

    I disagree here, however: I think your brand can and often should be your blog header. And why not?

    I use The Story Woman: Keeping Spirits Alive and it works. The Story Woman is my brand that sit atop my books, story salons, classes, workshops, book reviews, etc. It makes sense to me – AND I hope it makes sense to readers or it’s not working as I think it does…

  29. Agreed, largely. It makes sense to uphold a standard and defend it honorably.

  30. I promise to help your audio (and video) products sound better. And when they sound better, you sell more of them.

    Developing a “brand” or a “reputation” or whatever you may wish to call it is a “consciously unconscious” process, imo. If you work too hard at it, it shows. Similarly if you don’t work at it at all, this also shows.

    Balance.

    The Yin and Yang of marketing.

  31. @Story Woman, it’s really just a way of thinking about it. Using your blog header consistently is a very smart brand strategy, because people see it and associate it with you. But if you just produced random junk, it wouldn’t work. It’s because you have an underlying promise that threads through your many projects that people see that header and think, “Ah yes, The Story Woman, I like her stuff.”

    @Dennis, triple bonus points for Princess Bride reference.

  32. Loved, Loved, Loved this post. Thank you Sonia.

    I am working on developing a Negotiation Forum where the average Joe (or Jill) can come to improve their negotiation skills. Negotiation is something we all do every day, whether we know it or not, and it should be a skill that we seek to improve over time.

    The short of it is that the Negotiation Board wants to create a resource where community members can learn, share, and succeed in negotiation.

  33. Is Branding Dead? Well, I just have to look at the RICH DAD company to know that Branding WORKS like gangbusters.

    Robert Kiyosaki has a whole panel of experts who chose to market their expertise under the RICH DAD brand (called the Rich Dad advisors), because they know they’ll sell more books under his brand, rather than selling under their own name.

    He says that every business owner should do branding, “So that you DON’T have to SELL SO HARD in the future.”

    He’s right. I don’t see him doing any promotion for his books, yet his new releases still sell like hotcakes because of his RICH DAD brand.

    Branding DEFINITELY works for information marketers and bloggers. The only question is, WHEN?

    My view is that during the startup stage, whether you are a business owner, information marketer or blogger, your focus should first be on nailing your USP, and engaging in direct marketing.

    Only after getting these basics right, do you start looking into extending your USP to a long-term branding strategy.

  34. I utilize the tag line, “Your success is our success. Your mind is the greatest asset that you own”. In my blog site I write
    accurate, helpful, and informative articles about the frugal
    lifestyle, understanding financial literacy, online multiple streams of income.

    Good article on branding for personal and businesses.

  35. Thanks, Sonia, you said that well with the underlying threads.

  36. @Kris C, thanks for a great comment. I agree with you, I think a lot of people diss branding because they have no idea what actually goes into it. Really good branding is all about communication and creativity and finding something deep that connects the product with the buyer. And I completely agree with you about the role that a consistent visual set of signals can play. Hugely helpful.

  37. Whoa! You can get triple bonus points for references to Princess Bride? Why wasn’t that mentioned earlier?

    It’s just not fair. Sigh.

  38. Branding to me is creating an image for your company, and then living up to or exceeding that image in the eyes of your customers every day. Perception is everything, so if people perceive your company to be of higher quality, then that is the reality.

    The key is to make promises you can deliver on 110% of the time. So many companies promise the world and then under-deliver, resulting in disappointment for many customers. Instead, promise what you can always deliver, and then exceed this on a regular basis. You’ll build a brand in your niche in no time, and it will result in lifelong clients.

    At LexiConn, we have focused on customer support that goes beyond what most web hosts provide. Everyone at the company is an expert in ecommerce and hosting related issues. We provide an experience that is often lacking in this industry, and our clients love us for this. We’ve melded this core philosophy into our “motto”, and in the ShopSite/e-commerce industry, it has paid off.

    It’s not easy to live up to your image each day, but putting in the hard work and determination to make sure you always strive for your idea of “perfection” does not go un-noticed by customers.

    Rob – LexiConn

  39. Great post – branding is dead. Now more than ever it’s about that thing that was so prevalent in high school…reputation. Not just for companies, but for individuals – seems a whole lot easier to think about my reputation in the marketplace, among coworkers, with my firends, than it is to formally develop a personal brand.

  40. It’s funny to be reading this today because my wife and I were just talking about how to brand my blog. I’ve been worried about getting a cool theme or an awesome logo to brand it, but maybe it is just the content that makes it.

    John Chow makes a big point regarding branding for memorability; if your blog looks the same as everyone else, it is hard to stand out. People DO judge books by their cover. The most professional looking blogs keep my attention the longest… I think there is a lot to be said about branding outside of the promise, but the promise is the key to making your brand valuable.

  41. Hmm, now that I have these triple bonus points, what to do with them? I suppose I shouldn’t blow them all in one place…

    If you like Princess Bride quotes and branding, , check out my August post: 10 Brand Strategy Lessons from the Princess Bride: http://www.begtodiffer.com/2009/08/10-lessons-from-princess-bride/

  42. this is such a common question, problem really that I wrote a book: Branding Backwards , for small companies to understand the key role your brand plays.

    You can download a free copy of branding backwards on my blog at http://www.nosmokeandmirrors.com

    Mark Allen Roberts
    http://www.outbsolutions.com

  43. I know so many products are identical except for the branding, but somehow, there is still a trust factor.

  44. Sonia– You bring up some fine points, and was reminded of one of the best direct marketers of all time, David Ogilvy. After many years at Ogilvy & Mather, we were certainly brainwashed about brand building. Today, things are far more fragmented, and building a true brand perhaps irrelevant in a place where “having your 15 minutes” seems to count for more. I’m a fossil of the world of “Mad Men” advertising and sure like to learn what you “youngsters” think about the traditional brand-building exercises.

  45. I promise my readers 3 things:

    1. I promise my community to that I’ll be honest about my own live music experiences as a fan and journalist.

    2. I promise to give them a chance to voice their opinion about live music and also challenge, or advance, what I’ve written.

    3. I promise to explore new aspects of live music that are not being discussed and allow my readers to discover a deeper meaning in their own live music experiences.

    These are all qualities/promises I wanted to see but didn’t see being offered by other live music blogs, so I created my own community (or a “Tribe”, I guess) on Live Fix. I want all music fans to feel they have a place to speak openly about their experiences and have the chance to explore more if they want to. And judging by their responses on Live Fix blog, fans do want to have a place to do so.

  46. So true, a brand is deeper than a logo, a tag-line and a marketing plan. Especially in this age of social media. In fact, i’m removing the tagline from my upcoming site re-design. If you’re not excited and turned on by your own brand, your misssion – your promise – you’re not likely to be able to convey that excitement and passion to your potential customers, who in turn, will likely look for it elsewhere…!

    There’s so many options these days, you don’t have to be the Absolute Best in the business. You DO have to be good at what you do, and smart about how to communicate that to your audience, and how to keep them paying attention and coming back for more.

    It helps to know who your audience is, and just be comfortable in really conveying your affinity and understanding of who they are, in terms of needs, wants and desires, but also in terms of just being a cool person to deal with, and someone who can really give them what they need.

    My commitment is to go above and beyond what my clients could possibly expect from their websites, by making it super easy to craft their mission and their message, and turn their websites into a real extension of the best part of themselves and their business. A business that makes people WANT to buy from and interact with.

    The most important part, though, and before everything else? I promise to do it with style…and joy!

  47. I’m not monetizing my blog, and I’m not a small business. In fact, I’m a fairly small blogger, as audiences go. However, when someone reads me, or sees my Kestrel logo, I would hope they expect–and get–a thoughtful, if eclectic, commentary on a topic important to me. Not only that, it’ll be well-written, but not highbrow. Finally, they should know I welcome discussion, and disagreement, and that I will interact with them on a regular, ongoing basis.

    In other words, Kestrel’s Aerie is a place we can have a reasoned discourse on a variety of topics.

  48. In my blog I promise creative people to find the best possible inspiration and to design something as revolutionary as a phone. I just say what creativity what’s is to create something life like or an abstraction of life like the web. Someone please proof me wrong.

  49. Funny thing about Coke’s brand is when they introduced New Coke and stopped making the original, people melted the complaint lines and got THEIR brand back.

    Coke didn’t take away a brand; Coke took away the feelings and positive associations that the brand nurtured inside their customers.

    Lesson: Branding isn’t dead, sometimes it’s no longer your company’s property, and be careful if you decide to F with it.

  50. Thanks Shane, New Coke is a “classic” example of brand hubris coming back to haunt a clueless proprietor (and another topic I’ve blogged about recently).

    But I use “proprietor” not “owner” intentionally, because I have to quibble with one phrase: “sometimes (your brand) is no longer your company’s property”. It is NEVER your property!

    To cycle back to Seth Godin’s definition, a brand is just like a promise: once you make a promise to someone, you no longer own it, they do. What you own is the responsibility to live up to the promise.

  51. Whoops, I see that a previous comment is caught in “awaiting moderation” mode – presumably because I included a link. Ooops. I’ll save you the trouble and repost what I said:
    _____________
    Hmm Sonia, now that I have these triple bonus points, what to do with them? I suppose I shouldn’t blow them all in one place…

    For more on Princess Bride quotes and branding, check out my August post on Beg to Differ: 10 Brand Strategy Lessons from the Princess Bride.

  52. My blog, Creativitae (I pronounce it “creativity”), is a positive place for me to occupy, cultivate ideas and share with others. I started the blog almost a year ago hoping to find a community of like-minded artists and as a catalyst for my own creativity. Creativitae features design project ideas, workshop-type creativity boosters, links to artists’ blogs that I love, business tips, recognition of great causes and artist friendly sites.

    I tend to change the look of the blog to match the seasons, but maintain the same Logotype and tag in the header, and keep sidebar items consistent. Since this is a personal blog it works for me, I enjoy the creative process and that’s why I started the site (I had previously suffered with creative block), as my inspiration.

    Now that I’ve started an Etsy shop I am more conscious of my branding. Thank you for this post, it really put things in perspective for me.

  53. Sonia, you know you’ve written a great post when this many people respond so thoughtfully and intelligently. Since I’m taking the TeachingSells course, the timing is perfect for me to consider what I intend to promise along with what I intend to teach/sell. I LOVE thinking of it that way!

    And since “Brand” seems to me to be “Identity,” it’s unlikely to die anytime soon. “I think, therefore I am.” :-)

  54. When I teach about branding at writers’ conferences, most writers have a tough time wrapping their minds around the “brand” buzzword. But when I explain that your brand is like a thesis statement for your business, they instantly get it.

    A thesis is a statement about the unique information you’re going to deliver consistently to your reader. Same with a brand: You identify a uniqueness and deliver that “promise” to your target audience consistently, over time.

  55. I refer to “branding” as “brand shaping” because all a brand is, is a perception. Your brand can be different to different people. The best that you can do is try to shape the brand experience where possible.

  56. The term ‘Branding’ may die, but the practice of crafting what you want to be known as in the mind of the consumer never will.

    The article makes a great point near the end – that your brand isn’t your corporate colors, logo or typeface. Those things are tools to convey what your promise is. This is a fundamental but often overlooked point.

  57. Brand can’t never die because to promote yourself or company you need to brand first than sale to people.

    Your article is great and I have learn great think about branding..

    Thanks..

  58. My blog promises laughs, impromptu Flashdance routines and inspiration for kick arse living.

    Love that quote by Seth Godin – a great way to view branding. I do think that branding still helps with consistency of message and recognition but it’s far less of an issue than it used to be. It could be because customers are so much more comfortable (many even prefer) to buy from small, lesser known businesses.

    I think people are now more interested in the “story” of the business (or blog/blogger) and what it sells than just being attached to a recognizable brand.

  59. I promise my clients
    • a garden of timeless style and unrivalled beauty
    • a sustainable garden in harmony with the natural environment
    • a healthy garden that thrives without harmful chemicals
    • a refuge for native songbirds, frogs and other wildlife
    • a water-wise garden that saves time and money.

    And I teach my clients
    • how to choose the right plants for their garden
    • how to decide: turf, lawn seed or ground cover alternatives?
    • how to detect ‘junk’ plants, and why the nursery industry promotes them
    • how to find a landscape designer and/or landscape contractor.

    I also have a Eucalyptus leaf logo, and links to other eco-friendly websites.

  60. I confess I’m one of those direct marketers who sometimes scoffs at brand advertising. Branding is fine when you’re using it to establish or reinforce your company’s personality (like your hand-woven baby blanket example). It goes off the rails when company execs start saying things like “let’s leverage our brand by paying $200,000,0000 to put our name on a baseball stadium” or “we want people to interact with our brand.”

    Oh, and my blog’s promise is to help creative services companies fix their broken marketing.

  61. When brands go wrong is when it is assumed that the fancy looking sign and smart design can take over an ill-defined business concept. You really should brand AFTER you know what benefits your product will bring the customer.

    Sometimes a brand is like a band aid on an a severed limb. It has good intentions, but no ability to perform the needed function.

    Sonia, liked your Etsy case study. Whatever made you go the craft way?

  62. In some ways our business is simply the promise that we make website profitable.

    On the other hand, our brand is more about personal branding… my wife Jill and I are our brand. We connect with our clients on a personal level and that’s what sets us apart in their eyes. Obviously this doesn’t work for all businesses.

  63. Brands can never die. This is my idea.

  64. Most agencies talk about branding the same way many insurance salespeople talk about financial planning. You end up with more insurance in the latter case and a new logo in the former. For small companies, good direct response marketing, over time, creates a good brand. And may I add, mid-gasp, as you gasp, GOOD direct response marketing is more than too much of that nasty copy and too little of your beloved white space. It tells a story. It connects.

    Too, I believe the age of the harpooners is passing (the “bang them over the head with 2,000 words until they give up, sweating, and give in”).

    Blame the internet.

  65. Wow! And I actually thought that the idea called “brand” was getting clearer. How utterly disheartening.

    Tom Asacker, author, A Clear Eye on Branding: Straight Talk on Today’s Most Powerful Business Concept

  66. My blog promises to help second language English speakers write for business using a TASTEful process: Think, Arrange, Sketch, Trim and Edit. I aim for my ‘brand’ — brightly displayed in the logo header — to encourage simple English writing style in Asia, where it’s usually anything but simple.

  67. I have decided to take a more open approach to my readers. To be honest, I have been struggling with how open I should go but I think it is time to break down the barriers and say more about what’s really going on behind the scenes.

    There are lots of interested readers reading every week so I think it is a good time to bring it to the table and start really talking from the chest.

  68. @Lydia, my mom is a weaver with a small online shop and she made me some amazing baby blankets, so when I was searching for examples that one just fell together. :)

    @Derek, yep, makes me a little nuts when people confuse the tool with the task.

    @Dennis, I remember meeting a gentleman in the marketing arm of a very well-known brand, talking about what consumers were doing with “our brand” and how they were changing/tweaking/riffing on “our brand.” It isn’t yours was the thought that kept running through my mind.

  69. Do you know why Direct Response masters mock branding?

    Because they don’t understand that they’re using it without knowing it. You know what their brand is? Their name.

    Anyone will buy anything by a John Carlton or a Joe Polish or a Dan Lok… Those names are brands in and of themselves. Even if Joe Polish keeps on saying Branding is only for the big boys… it isn’t. And you’re right. Once you’ve decided what you stand for, you can hire a graphic designer (not a big ad agency) to reinforce that on a scale that fits the size of your enterprise.

  70. I agree with that–another example is the Glazer-Kennedy organization. They have a very potent and consistent brand promise, and their “anti-brand” look works well with that message.

    To the best of my knowledge, Kennedy doesn’t mock branding, but he does mock those who fuss endlessly (and spend endless money) over the look and feel of their company’s identity without having a solid marketing message behind it.

    Then again, it’s Kennedy, so odds are he does mock it.

  71. Our marketing manager has a sign on her door that says, “Brand is what people say about you when you’re outside the room”

    I think that brand is really built up by people through their experiences with the business. I work at a college and I’ve heard it mentioned that our alumni are our brand.

    I don’t think branding is dead, but its evolving. Our brand is manifested in our customers, or in our case, alumni. As Seth Godin and others have mentioned, its about tribes. Branding, in the traditional sense is dead.

    Great article. Thanks.

  72. I think “branding” *is* evolving. It’s more about people than entities it seems. It’s more personal.

    It’s an act to create an entities “brand”, it takes a lot of coordination and planning and strategy. Something that is new to branding is to just be authentic. Less strategy, more personal investment.

  73. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I

    would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have

    enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  74. Agree, it is about making and keeping a promise, however, winning brands go further than than that.
    They work out how to WOW consumers so the buy again and maybe even tell their friends about it.

  75. I promise to help you get dinner on the table.

  76. Good points!

    I especially like the part about your brand not being your header or typeface.

    The whole purpose of good design is to clearly communicate something to the viewer/user. In the case of a blog, what you should be trying to convey is your brand (those promises that you are making and meeting over time), rather than the design itself BEING the brand.

    In an ideal situation, people should be able to get the right vibe from your design without having been there before (walk into a Starbucks without having been there before and you can get a pretty good idea of what they’re all about due to really solid, communicative design).

    A lot of people forget this, though, and try to base their entire brand on a clever typeface or elaborate color scheme.

  77. I think powerful branding is what allows clients and customers to feel like they are part of something special. Being part of a brand for some is like being part of an exclusive group.

  78. I think the problem most people have with the idea of “brand advertising” comes from the way it was done 10 years ago: Buying impression advertising that had imperceptible conversion, and writing it off as, “getting people familiar with the brand.”

    Instead, I agree that a “brand” isn’t a quickie image at all, but a conveyance of what a company is all about, quickly. If a business isn’t willing to shape and present their best face to the public, you can count on the public eventually doing it for them – and it isn’t always pretty.

  79. Very interesting article. If branding were dead however, I don’t think Apple would sell as many phones as they do despite being inferior to other makes. And I think they do play by the same rules; they’re just the bigger boys in the playground. Check out my ramblings on microbrands on Ouch – they have to appeal to their smaller catchment area whether it’s a new ‘village’ or a good old-fashioned village village – with a green an’ everything!

    Even the fact that there are plenty of definitions of a ‘brand’ around means that branding will always be a part of marketing. I love Seth’s definition – and many others too. A brand is also largely what the consuming public make it; in other words you can’t get away with a lie over the period of time that Seth mentions – you have to live up to the promise every step of the way – so I do feel it’s quite a democratic process – no matter how much brandwankiness has been injected at the start. Great blog BTW.

  80. I like Jason’s comment that says “You are your brand.” That’s powerful because it forces you to look past your product into your character and the character of your business. Consumers want to know that you are who you say you are–even on a bad day. That’s what helps to build trust.

  81. The bottom line is this: If the image you convey matches your real identity, you’re on your way to success. If not, your false image will come back to bite you, and you’ll deserve to fail.

  82. We promise practical strategies and insight into the psychology that top entrepreneurs use to turn their ideas into big business empires…. even if you’ve got no experience and YOUR great idea is still just a dream.

  83. In case anyone is still unclear, I do not, myself, believe branding is dead. :)

  84. Branding is the “B” in B.S.

  85. My business promises a smart and fun connection with the argentine art scene.

    Thanks for helping me articulate it. I think it can stick. :)

  86. I agree with Boyd—brands are in the hearts and minds of your customers, but they’re not something you can dictate. If you stand for something unique which is important to a group of people, then you are on your way to building a successful brand. I know of a local hardware store that has built a brand without any of the things we usually associate with branding: no logo, no ads, no tagline, no jingle, not even a website. Yet I have a very clear feeling about what they do for me that no other business can do. That’s what a brand really is—the feeling people get when they think about you or do business with you. I defy you to name a successful business that has not created that.

  87. I don’t stop by here often enough but I’m glad I did. This post on branding displays the inner tension in the world of Internet Marketing today.

    The rumor is that people don’t NEED to brand. Just show the down-home lonesome self look.

    But can anyone name large businesses that conduct themselves that way?

    This tension covers everything from sending out HTML or Text emails or adding a header to each email.

    It covers the current trend of bouncing from product launch to product launch rather than work hard and build a brand.

    Great article.

    Keep up the good stuff.

    Peace.

  88. Great post.

    My biggest annoyance is ‘branding campaigns’. Ad campaigns that seem to allow clients and agencies to absolve themselves from accountability. “It’s not about sales, it’s about awareness.” Worries the hell out of me.
    I also posted about this: http://ow.ly/rNTs

  89. Great points.

    From what I can tell, if you actually commit for some time to the high standards you set for your business, you can condition your customers to give you preference over your competitors.

    Most of our customers are happy because of the timely and detailed customer services. I guess some would know that our prices are a little higher, but they still go with us because of the “branding”.

  90. Just read the article and found it very interesting.

    Is branding dead? indeed a challenging topic to discuss.
    I personnally think that branding is somehow needed to maintain a good relationship with our clients. Through branding, we can catch the clients’ attention and then through out the way, developing strong connections with them.

    Anyway, it such a nice post. Glad that I gave a visit here! Thank you.