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Branding Is Dead .... Long Live Branding!

by Mike Wagner  |  
June 5, 2006

Doc and Hugh said branding was dead nearly two years ago....

Maybe so, but Robert isn't so sure.
There seems to be enough left of branding to "irritate" Johnnie Moore, agitate Alan Mitchell and ignite Neil Boorman's earthly branded goods.
I've met a few business leaders who wished branding were dead. "It's confusing. Everyone tells me it's important but can't tell me what I should do. I'm spending money and getting what in return?" Most would love to "put out a contract" on branding and be done with it once and for all.
I'd like to keep branding around, but agree, things have got to change. Here's how I am learning to keep branding alive:
First, recognize the term "branding" is not the problem. Our broadcast world and mass-market mindset has often connected this term with manipulation, lying and trickery. Abuse of a term does not argue for non-use - it argues for correct use.
Second, realize branding isn't about branding, branding is about ownership. Branding represents the fascinating human instinct to mark what we own. Change the question from "How do we brand?" to "How do we mark our work, our organizations, and the things we create?"
Third, consider "brand ownership" as a framework for applying branding to the very real and new marketplace we all face. Do so by using the five brand ownership forces along with the question they raise:

  • Difference: What is the creative difference we offer? Scion xB designers said, "We'd rather be interesting than beautiful" and marked their brand as different, ugly/cute, and successful.

  • Invitation: How do we invite people to be a part of this? Saturn said, "We'll sell our cars at one price nationwide" and marked their brand inviting to a segment of car buyers that dreaded the process.

  • Relevance: What practical usefulness are we creating? Starbucks said, "People need a place that isn't work and isn't home" and marked their brand as a relevant "third place" for today's lifestyle.

  • Truthfulness: What happens when the truth is told here? CEO Darwin Smith said, "We can't stay in the paper manufacturing business and succeed." So Kimberly-Clark marked their brand with truthfulness, sold the mills, and went full force into the consumer market.

  • Engagement: Who here really believes in what we are doing? Even Hugh Macleod said, "I don't like branding. I don't like brand theory." So, he marks his career brand with what fully-engages his considerable talents– and I'm glad he did.

To paraphrase a quote from Mark Twain: "The rumors of the death of branding have been greatly exaggerated."

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Mike Wagner

As founder and president of White Rabbit Group, Mike Wagner has focused his energies on creating a model of branding every business leader can grasp and apply to their organization: Brand Ownership.

Mike’s understanding of creative and competitive business cultures was formed at Franklin Covey and Saturn where he witnessed how brand critical standards resulted in exceptionally successful marketing and sales processes.

In the early days of Internet marketing, Mike was instrumental in leading a web development company into Inc. Magazine’s 500 fastest growing companies. Helping clients make sense of e-business when others could not, his insight as an Internet business strategist won over clients that included Wells Fargo, Principal Financial Group, AOL Time Warner publishing, and more.

Mike speaks, trains, and coaches clients across the nation. His messages and workshops help business leaders re-imagine their brands and creatively practice enterprise-wide brand ownership. He is the author of the professional business blog, Own Your Brand.

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  • by Allen Weiss Mon Jun 5, 2006 via blog

    Since a brand is nothing more than a mark (a name, logo, etc.), and branding is the process of making people have certain mental and emotional associations with that mark, it isn't clear to me why people think branding would ever be dead...that is unless they think that companies will stop using names and logos, or that people will be brain dead and can't do mental associations. Once again, this seems to be more about selling books or magazines, than anything to do with the real world.

  • by Claire Ratushny Mon Jun 5, 2006 via blog

    I quite agree with the comment posted by Allen Weiss. I would also add that in an age when we have so many similar product/service offerings and companies, differentiation and ongoing brand management are the primary reason for business success. Without them, every product and every company become a commodity.

  • by Jennifer Lueck Mon Jun 5, 2006 via blog

    I appreciate your ideas on the "brand ownership forces." A brand is the entire experience your prospects and customers have with your company. It's what you stand for, a promise you make, and the personality you convey. Thanks for a great post!

  • by Mike Sansone Mon Jun 5, 2006 via blog

    Many companies drop the ball in missing the Invitation and Engagement portion of the framework. Invite and engage. Listen and respond. Miss those, and your mark will become invisible

  • by olivier blanchard Tue Jun 6, 2006 via blog

    You're all brilliant. :)

  • by Jack Yan Tue Jun 6, 2006 via blog

    You are right about definitions, Mike. Branding is the processes by which an organization differentiates, symbolizes and represents itself to all of its audiences. The processes are still valid, even if they are taking different forms. What has been wrong with branding is the way the processes have been misused, and that agitates the likes of Johnnie Moore et al. Thanks for a great post!

  • by Karrie Shimp Tue Jun 6, 2006 via blog

    Jack's got a great point about what's been wrong with branding. I think misuse is a big part of it. In business climates that increasingly push ROI or die budgeting processes - branding can seem like a nebulous concept to execs & finance folks. Face it, there really isn't much we can do to connect the dots between a brand ad and ROI. If we focus on Mike's suggestion to invite, engage, listen, & respond we can invest in our brand's bottom line and potentially quantify what the heck we're doing. Of course, I'm a CRM geek. :)

  • by Tom Asacker Tue Jun 6, 2006 via blog

    Wow! The brand debate goes on and on. Kind of like the wheels on the bus (remember that song?).;) If you do, you know what a brand is. What is a brand? An expectation. That's it! If you create one - or don't - it really doesn't matter to the customer. They'll find what they desire somewhere. But, it may matter a lot to your shareholders. Tom Asacker, author, A Clear Eye for Branding

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