Ted Simon - Just a Marketing Minute

Brands - Who Do YOU Trust?

It seems that everyone is having trust issues these days (see WMD's, Healthcare, baseball players and steroids, etc.). So, why should Brands be an exception?

BusinessWeek's article on The Great Trust Offensive (and the video above) highlights that Brands are indeed no exception.

But, I ask: is this news? Not to me. Trust is absolutely core to the meaning of a Brand and the Brand's relationship with its consumers. And, any time you have a relationship, it seems that you are bound to have "issues."  For Brand's, today's marketplace and technology have just made it faster and more obvious.

If trust has always been at the core of a successful brand, why am I writing about this?  There are two things I think bear noting.

Brands Can't Hide - No How, No Way
Today's technology and communication explosion has greatly accelerated the ability for a Brand to build its reputation and trust...and to lose it.  Web 2.0 and global communications means the whole world is watching, literally, and word travels at lightspeed.  It’s all out there - the good, the bad and the ugly, and you can bet that someone is going to find it and broadcast it.  This has created a new paradigm for Brand reputation building and management.  For whatever reason, many Brands (and companies) are still struggling with this new reality, which leads me to...  

It's not branding...it's a Brand
Many companies miss the boat when they pursue "branding" efforts. "Branding" efforts don't build trust. "Branding" is a verb; "branding" is an activity. It involves people at companies doing something to create a particular impression; it is intended to create a positioning, look, feel, identity in a meaningful, relevant, consistent manner for a product, service.  "Branding" is a portrayal of a Brand, but, that's not what builds trust.

A Brand is a noun (it's no accident that I have capitalized the word...I view a Brand as a proper noun).  A Brand stands for something that extends well beyond what "branding" does or can do.  Rather than the portrayal, it is the subject of that portrayal itself.  It's the relationship between the product and the consumer in all facets - rational and irrational; function, emotion, personality and some times even spirituality - that is a Brand.  And, like people, we trust those Brands who are true to who they portray themselves to be.  And, that means a Brand has to be real and genuine delivery in terms of it promises, delivery of benefits, actions in the marketplace, etc. 

So, it follows that if "branding" is the portrayal of the Brand, it needs to be in a subservient role.  Things get out of whack and Brands (and companies) get into trouble when they confuse one with the other or, even worse, engage in branding portrayals that are not true, genuine or consistent with the Brand. 

In today's world, liars and posers are not trusted, and easily “outed.”  Or, as my old colleague Carol Phillips (President of Brand Amplitude consulting and a marketing instructor at Notre Dame) puts it so eloquently:  "Consumers, and especially young ones, reserve a special place in branding hell for companies that say one thing and do another."

Welcome to the new (or not so new) world order.  We all better get used to it...it's not going away.  But, if you embrace it and understand it, you'll be truer to your Brand, stay truer to your Brand's consumers...and have a leg up on your competitors

And, please...stop "branding."  Focus on building your Brand.  Trust me on that one.