Is the Concept of ‘The Brand’ Now Dead?

March 30, 2017

According to the speaker of a recent seminar I attended at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the advent of Artificial Intelligence and rise of machine-to-machine interaction won’t just bring doomy events like mass unemployment to pass.

No, apparently it will usher in a new golden age of creativity, as computers start to do even more of the number crunching and heavy lifting.

So, as most of us have already outsourced our long-term memories to Google (and presumably our favourite fibs to Wikipedia), we creative types will apparently gain a lot more time in which to ponder more exalted matters.

All of which sounds like a very good thing to me, if I’m honest. Particularly as the speaker went as far as suggesting that this could herald a return to the golden days of the 70s, 80s, 90s – and especially 1992 – when, research suggests, more of us thought that the Commercials were actually better than the programmes.

Yet while it’s an arresting thought that we might start making great brand ads for TV again, I can’t help thinking that the rules of the game have already changed too much for what Robin Wight of WCRS famously called ‘The Adman’s Gloss’ to be quite as effective as it once was.

Today’s Brands Have To Do More Than Talk About Themselves

At the risk of sending you all to sleep, I’m afraid that I have to throw in the word ‘engagement’ here, and not simply because it’s the marketing buzzword of the century so far.

It used to be enough for brands to put together an amusing and entertaining ad campaign, and if it were catchy enough, people would buy into it. The fact is that apart from ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’, which wouldn’t have looked out of place next to any number of equally catchy 80s ads, today’s brands are having to do more than simply raise a smile. Infact the Specsavers line appeared decades before for Radio Rentals – check it out on youTube.

Enlightened brands such as Nike, started to seriously engage with the running community through its clever – if hopelessly inaccurate – Nike+ device more than a decade ago. Now, it’s fair to say that they have joined all the dots and created a really connected universe around their brand that gives them ownership of a large part of the running community.

I might also point to Tom’s Shoes, a brand that promises to give a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair that their customers buy. Not only is that an admirable brand promise, it forcefully demonstrates the fact that they have a brand purpose every consumer can be proud to buy into. That’s what engagement really means today: not simply getting a retweet or a like, but acquiring customers and brand ambassadors for life.

All of which is in stark contrast, I have to say, to things like Amazon Dash Buttons. Designed for those who are too posh to push a trolley, or the early adopters who have to have the latest tech, even if it’s simply alerting Amazon to the fact that one has just used the last bit of bog roll, these really do seem like the last word in gimmickry to me. They also look a lot like the last, desperate gasp of the sort of brand that hasn’t realised consumers demand more from its brand promise than the chance to see some puppies.  

Can B2B Brands Embrace The New Order?

B2B brands are by no means immune to the changes that have taken place in the media landscape and the attitudes and behaviours of their target audiences.

One significant consequence of our totally connected world is that our large B2B clients are having to seek engagement with their customers in new ways and in unexpected places.

We’ve all had to realise that life and work are now blending to such an extent that we can no longer count on B2B messages reaching a B2B audience in their place of B, as it were.

In fact, we are increasingly tailoring communications and media selection to speak to B2B audiences in their leisure time: which we have found to generate up to a 25% lift in brand awareness of core audiences.

Naturally, we’re pretty pleased by that fact, as are our clients. But, bragging aside, the fact is that we haven’t made our core audiences behave differently: we have simply caught onto the fact that they now prefer to digest certain information away from the hustle and bustle of the office, when they have the leisure to consider it.

To put it another way, and at the risk of paraphrasing JFK, brands now need to ask not what we can do for their target audiences, but what it is that their target audiences really want us to do for them.

Dan Vivian - Business Development & Marketing Director