Monday, February 22, 2010

Does Branding Still Have a Place at the Marketing Table?

Many years ago, burnishing the image of a company or product was one of the most important functions of marketing. Everybody wanted their customers and prospects to think favorably of their business. And rightfully so! Being seen as a solid company or even a market leader went hand-in-hand with improved sales and stronger profits over the long term

But then came the age of promotion. Every ad, every message had to create an instant return on investment. Even if it meant diminishing or demeaning the image of the company or product being promoted. Slowly but surely, "branding" lost favor.

Need an example? Automobile manufacturers and dealers have conditioned the American public to purchase a car only when there is a "special event" in progress. They convinced us that, if we waited for a "sale" (real or fabricated) we would save big bucks. It worked so well that the occasional sales events had to be extended and expanded so that practically every day is a "special" day at your local dealer.

By relying so heavily on promotion and pricing, the automobile industry turned its products into commodities, and lost the ability to differentiate vehicles based on quality and service. The almighty "monthly lease payment" rules.

(Toyota certainly wishes they had paid more attention to branding today. It will take more than another round of "Toyotathons" to repair the damage done to the corporate image.)

There is hope. The prolonged recession has shown that promotional marketing has its limits. With discretionary money tight, consumers have been less inclined to jump at the first offer they see. Instead, we have returned to the practice of deliberation and consideration before parting with our dollars.

When buyers stop to think, the image of a company enters the equation. Instead of being dazzled by a "once in a lifetime offer," the buyer needs to be convinced that he or she is making an intelligent purchasing decision. And an important part of that decision is having confidence in the business from which we are buying.

A return to branding fits in well with the expansion of media that has come about in recent years. Instead of trying to tell a company's story in 30 seconds, the internet allows plenty of time and space to delve more deeply into the who, what, when and where of a product or service. Picky consumers can satisfy themselves that they are making a good decision before plunking down their hard-earned cash or clicking the "buy now" button on their web browser.

What about your business? Have you been paying attention to your company's image among customers and prospects? Or have you come to rely on price cutting and special deals that have reduced your value in their eyes?

Long live branding.

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