Brand marketing a bad investment?

by Tony Fannin, President, BE Branded

I happened to see an online article on BNET recently with the headline: “Brand marketing = Bad investment”. Obviously, this got my attention. Could have I been wrong all these years believing in the power of brands? Am I the one missing out? I had to read on. Here is the cornerstone of their argument: “The only way to create brand preference (and command a higher margin per unit sale) is to offer a better customer experience.” They site a recent Nielsen survey stating that more than 60% of consumers think that stores’ generic products are equal in quality to brand-name ones. This article believes that brand marketing may have worked in the “good old days”, but in today’s information-rich environment, it’s all about customer experience.

I half agree with the article’s premise. Customer experience is critical to defining your brand. If your staff doesn’t deliver the brand promise, you’ve already lost the game. If your product doesn’t fulfill the brand promise, you won’t get a second chance. The experience your customer has with your brand is vital.

Here is where I disagree with the author:
Brand experience is beyond customer service. Customer service is a portion, and a very critical component, of the experience. But, there is much more to brand than that. It’s really not complicated to deliver great customer service. It’s hard, but not complicated. The point is, it’s easily duplicatable. Brand is something that is difficult to duplicate. It’s the emotion fulfillment the brand delivers. It’s who they are as a company or product. (no different than who you are as a person) It is this element that helps gives them a second chance when a screw up happens, and it will, because no one or no company is perfect. Brand is what sets up expectations and promise. Deliver on that expectation and you’re gold. Don’t deliver on that, customers feel lied to. I will use the same example the BNET author used to make my point. The Apple iPod is the standard in MP3 players. I do believe the Nielsen survey is right, people do think quality between a brand name and a generic is the same. If that’s true, why doesn’t the generic become the standard that everyone wants and is measured against? Why is the iPod still the leader instead of the many generic MP3 players? It’s really because of what Apple stands for. It has built an emotional brand image of “cool and intuitive” through their consistent brand marketing over the decades, along with their customer service. The author states Apple TV as a failure because of their “lack of customer experience”, but in actuality, Apple never dedicated any marketing resources to back the product. Without marketing, it’s an up hill battle.

People still want to feel good about their purchases. Yes, most all consumers would say that generics are as good as brand names. If that’s true, Apple, BMW, Coke, and McDonald’s shouldn’t matter. The best sellers should be ACME laptops, no name vehicles, Big Cola (a generic brand), and your local burger joint. Think of it this way. If brands don’t matter and all that counts is customer service, we all should be wearing the same kinds and color of clothes. Something of a national uniform because the customer service is good, it’s cheap, and it’s well made. But most people buy clothes on how they make you feel. Does the new Michael Korrs dress make you feel prettier? Do the new Nike’s make you feel quicker? And, if you feel prettier and quicker, do you act differently? Do you feel more confident than you did? It is this emotional quality that governs how and why we buy. A book I warmly recommend is “Why We Buy” by Paco Underhill.

Yes, customer service and customer experience counts a lot. I completely agree. It’s part of the brand, but not the whole brand. Brands fulfill an emotional need in all of us at different levels. We each have things that are important to us where we won’t skimp for the generic alternative. Whether it’s tech components or fashion, there are brands that mean something to us in our own, unique worlds. So, if you think brand marketing is a bad investment, that’s your choice. To me, you’re heading down a path of commodity road and eventually you might find yourself out of sight because you won’t matter anymore. Because, when you’re a commodity, you’re no one.


About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

5 Responses to “Brand marketing a bad investment?”

  1. Good post. I totally agree that customer service is only part of it.

  2. Just had to take the two seconds to post a thank you. Read through through your site and really liked the content material, bookmarked and I plan on returning soon!

    • Guy- thank you for your compliment and for taking time to read my blog. I hope it will continue to be of value to you. Please feel free to contribute any insights you may have in the area of marketing and branding. -Tony


  1. Tweets that mention Brand marketing a bad investment? « Bebranded's Blog -- - April 3, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anneliza Humlen. Anneliza Humlen said: #Brand #marketing a bad investment? Why cust service is only part of issue #retail #CMO #engagement […]

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