Branding. It’s About Listening, And Then Being Creatively Authentic. Oh, And It’s Not Dead.
As a marketing and branding professional, I am a proponent of social media. The game is changing, and it’s vital for colleges and universities and other organizations to pay attention and to get strategically plugged into social media. But I haven’t drank the Koolaid. A few weeks ago, however, I found someone who has.
Augustine Fou, in his article, Branding Today: Why It’s Ineffective, Irrelevant, Irritating, and Impotent gives us a piece that reads like an argument for a wacky California ballot proposition. Not distinguishing between marketing and branding, or good branding and bad branding; not just being content to distinguish between today’s marketing environment vs. the Mad Men era of advertising, Fou simply declares that branding is dead because of today’s technology empowered consumers who will tell you what your brand is. Talk about overreaching.
Even his examples of brands that do not need branding are evidence of brilliant branding (e.g. Apple). His claim that colors, logos, and the like (for instance, costumes and art direction in the I’m a Mac television commercials) don’t matter to consumers, or make a difference in branding campaigns, flies in the face of research on consumers, media, and on how our brains work. Only someone operating with half a brain (the left side) could make such a case.
But Fou’s overall point about branding in today’s market bears truth. Truly, gone are the days when you could make up things about your brand and expect to get the public to buy it just because you said it. Social media today empowers your consumers to let you and others know how you’re doing with your product(s).
Thus, as Fou puts it, you must have or develop a “kick ass product” and maintain it. And I agree. Branding and marketing are muçh more than just promotion. It’s also about your product and organization. And that’s where expert “branding” begins.
Your product must be good. And your branding of it must be authentic. Social media will allow you to find out what your brand is in the minds of your consumers and constituencies, if you listen. And if you listen, you’ll be able to take the information you’ve learned to improve your product and business processes, and creatively craft a branding message and campaign that will resonate with your customers and constituencies and attract more fans.
Because the brand is yours. The message is yours. The logo, colors, and art direction are yours. The words you select to describe your brand and your products are yours. Your customers, students, alumni, etc. are not going to do that work for you. They’ll react to what you present. They’ll let you know if you nailed it or blown it. If you’re really good at branding and building community, your customers may feel like it’s their brand. That’s the goal. But they’re not the ones who are going to do the important work of branding the institution.
Those of us involved in marketing higher education know that social media isn’t going to take away our responsibility to brand our colleges and universities. For years, we’ve had communities of connected and vocal fans and constituents (e.g., students, alumni, faculty, etc.) who have been letting us know what they think our brands are and should be. But that has not killed branding or rendered it useless. Rather, we have found that our branding has the potential to build those communities and to build community, both of which attract new fans to the cause.