In many quarters, branding has almost become synonymous with advertising, marketing, and/or public relations. But as presented a few days ago, branding is a cross-departmental or disciplinary communication and operational function.
Specifically, it relies on the ability to effectively communicate a promise, deliver on that promise, and prove the promise was delivered. This is how companies develop relationships with customers and consumers.
Communicating A Promise.
A brand promise can be easily summed up as a unique position or unique product statement (or contrast point), with advertising usually charged with making sure that promise earns attention, especially when it is placed in front of the intended audience (or a maximum amount of people, which seems to be the general focus nowadays).
The challenge for advertising agencies is to make that promise as clear as possible, as interesting as possible to intended audience, and as confined as possible without overreaching on the company's ability to deliver. When there is no strategic thought behind a campaign, these three points aren't always in alignment.
• Some agencies produce ads that promise nothing. Diesel Shoes.
• Some agencies produce ads that bore us. Infotapes.
• Some agencies produce ads that promise too much. United.
Delivering On A Promise.
Not all companies mean to break their promises. Some of them do. A few even lie so often that we accept lies but do not elevate our expectations (e.g., fast food product shots, airline on-time arrival boasts, up front car salesmen). But for these purposes, it makes more sense to focus on those that are more clear cut.
Simply put, companies destroy their own brands when they don't measure up to the brand promise. Nobody gets upset when their phone camera doesn't measure up to a dedicated camera. But most people get upset when they are asked how they would like a burger cooked, and it comes out rare instead of medium (they don't say as much if they are never asked). And then, of course, there are other ways to undermine a brand promise.
• Promises that are lies. BP.
• Promises that overreach. Sprint.
• Promises that change. American.
• Promises that aren't scalable. Toyota.
As a side note, it might be interesting to consider that with every "improvement" a social network makes, it is changing its original promises. Is it any wonder why every change gets questioned? Or that there have been consequences since Digg launched its makeover? Or that most discounts are bribes, because people who receive them tend to complain less? Or that sometimes people become upset when they find out there are hidden costs (such as damage to the environment)?
Proving That The Promise Is Delivered.
For some companies, delivering proof can be the hardest task of all. Some companies struggle because they attempt to hide or stomp out any evidence of broken promises. They can accomplish this any number of ways.
• They can attempt to appease distractors.
• They can attempt to discredit distractors.
• They can attempt to drown out distractors.
This function used to rest squarely on the shoulders of public relations. The original idea was that public relations could be company cheerleaders who targeted influential people within certain publics (including the media). But now, of course, part of this tactic has fallen over into social media with some companies trying to leverage the number of followers as validation that they can deliver on a promise (even if they cannot).
What concerns me about social media sometimes is that the entire intent becomes to build an army of minions who talk louder, more frequently, and to more people than any number of other distractors. This isn't much different than the model employed in the 1980s. Except, instead of topical boundaries, there used to be geographical ones. It seems more worthwhile to keep promises.
The point here is twofold. For good companies, it's not enough to make good on the right promises. Other people have to find out. And second, the post-sale communication can be just as important as the presale communication, especially when you consider that a happy customer relationship can quickly turn bad if another consumer shows them something of better value.
A Quick Summation.
Every piece of the communication counts. And when companies begin to understand that social media is an online environment, they'll begin to understand that every communication component belongs online, not just one or two of three.