Why Most Brand Marketing Is Bullshit

Wherever you go today, marketers are talking about brands. They talk about being more authentic. More trustworthy. More engaging. More purposeful.

Marketers at their conferences nod and say yes, hold workshops to map out their brand’s purpose and try to figure out what their brand should be saying. Which then translates into some subpar advertising.

The ugly truth about bad brands is they’re bad products

In Australia, one of the more maligned brands is Vodafone. Its well-documented woes point to a perception problem in the market, and it often blames its poor brand for it. But its poor brand masks the ugly truth: Vodafone had a terrible network and lost the trust of its customers.

Once that happened, no one was going to buy their product. The brand was just the sum of a bunch of things people had experienced with the company. You couldn’t manufacture that back with a bunch of brand values about being the ‘new’. You had to actually be the new.

Stop trying to make your brand like a human. It isn’t.

Flash forward to some much-loved brands, and you can see Uber. Uber’s organisation, from a marketing standpoint, is filled with growth hackers and engineers. They don’t even have a head of brand. Their content marketing play is to document their product in an interesting way.

All of this tells us the core truth of how people, rather than companies, treat brands — as the sum of the experiences and interactions.

Good brands have great products, which provide utility

How often do you see Apple working out how its brand translates into social media channels? Answer: very little. Apple doesn’t care about producing real-time content around the latest fad because it’s developing great products. When it has something to say, because it doesn’t say much, people tend to listen.

That changes the game for Apple as when they say something, people listen. If every time you talk you’re announcing a new product people want, you tend to get a better response from your audience. Especially if you’re then not announcing some new deal.

Brands that do content marketing get this as well. Why? They actually turn their content into a product. It’s a standalone — something that is in and of itself valuable to the customer. By being a great product, it makes it easier to cross-sell customers onto something a little more valuable. Medibank’s Be Magazine is a case in point for genius content marketing.

Of course, when you’ve got a shonky or not so crash hot business, you tend to not have anything interesting to say. Or to be boring. And so you try and turn your brand into something fuzzy and interesting in the hopes that customers engage with an abstract idea, rather than what they’re buying from you.

That’s why Woolworths, when it tried to go cheap, failed. They weren’t actually cheap, they’d tried to cut costs so lost their market on fresh, and they didn’t have a great supermarket product in their first place. Their brand didn’t fail — their product did.

Advertising works when it frames products, not brands

The age old question, if you believe this so far, is how does advertising fit into this mix?

Well, it’s quite simple — advertising is great at framing a product and idea in a compelling way. It’s why the core insight behind an ad is so important — because it ensures the creative delivers in a way which shows someone why this product or service might be better for them. Why it might have genuine value or utility for them.

Think about the worst ads you’ve seen for a second. You’re probably remembering them as vague, abstract, not really saying anything. Contrast that with the best ones (like this Volvo one). It literally demonstrates the product. There’s no branding in it. No cry for authenticity. It’s this truck is literally stable enough for Claude Van Damme to do a freaking split.

Want to improve your brand? Focus on utility

Make a great website that’s fantastic to use.

Have products which make a difference to people’s lives.

When your customers complain, help them.

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