Four NEW New Rules of Branding

By , Chief Strategy Officer & Partner, Hanson Dodge

By my calculations, we’re somewhere in the second decade of the BRANDING IS DEAD era. Google “branding is dead” or “brands don’t matter” and you’ll get a sense of what’s out there: a slew of provocatively titled works that purport to sound the death knell for branding once and for all.

Read through these articles, though, and you’ll see that few authors actually produce a body. Instead, they tend to follow a formula that goes something like this: explain (or apologize) for the title, then quickly pivot to a well-crafted piece that makes the case for a more modern, more enlightened approach to branding.

Like the old man in the “Bring Out Your Dead!” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it seems branding isn’t dead after all.

Still, the aforementioned authors make an inarguable point: our thinking about brands and branding must continue to change to keep up with a marketplace that’s evolving at breakneck speed. Just as we start to follow a new set of rules for branding, the new rules quickly become outmoded.

Accordingly—and with gratitude to Bill Maher—let’s look at four of the more recent new rules of branding, and a set of corresponding new new rules that merit consideration.

New Rule of Branding

1. The customer owns your brand. The customer holds the power in the relationship. They have all the info they need to make their own choices. They listen to other consumers. Write reviews. And tell your brand’s story for you, whether you like it or not. Get over it. Resistance is futile.

NEW New Rule of Branding

1. Take back your brand. Sure, consumers will tell a story about your brand no matter what you do. And yes, in many situations, what consumers say about your brand and products has far more credibility than anything you could say about yourself. But that doesn’t mean you should cede your brand story to someone else. Instead, tell a story that’s compelling, authentic and, if possible, differentiated. Then behave impeccably as a brand and as a company. Do that, and you needn’t worry about the consumer telling your story for you. Because they’ll adopt your story as their own.

New Rule of Branding

2. Make an emotional connection. The move to belief-based branding has penetrated every sector of the economy: from Dove’s groundbreaking “Real Beauty” campaign to publicly traded behemoths showing their softer sides on Sunday mornings during commercial breaks on Tapper or Stephanopoulos or Wallace or Schlesinger. Companies understand the importance of building brands to sell stuff. They’re also coming around to the notion that shared beliefs play an important role in building brands that sell more stuff more effectively. Well done, brand builders! But haven’t we replaced one form of noise with another? If every brand is striving to be my friend—to connect with me on an emotional level—who should I trust? My heart’s simply not big enough to have deep relationships with so many brands.

NEW New Rule of Branding

2. Make an emotional connection by going where the others haven't. Maybe this one is more aptly described as a New Old Rule. Yes, there’s no shortage of brands striving to win your wallet by winning your heart. But there’s always room to break through with a message and creative and insightful campaign tactics that go where the others haven’t. That’s what the best marketing teams and their agencies have always done. That’s our offer to the clients we serve at Hanson Dodge. The push to go somewhere new is nothing new. But it is a critical path on the way to increasing revenue and enhancing brand health.

New Rule of Branding

3. Marketing owns the brand's website, not IT. As I noted in an earlier Active Insights article, enlightened companies everywhere have recognized what’s at stake. A company’s website is a vital part of building a direct relationship with its critical audiences. So in an increasing number of organizations, Marketing owns the site in the name of ensuring that every aspect of the user experience builds brand. Progress is good!

NEW New Rule of Branding

3. As owner of the brand's website, Marketing must integrate a cross-functional team of contributors. The business impact of a brand’s website hinges on the effectiveness of the elements that cut across functional lines: content, user experience, technology platform, creative, search authority, landing page strategy and more. As such, the surest path to a high-performance website is for integrated teams to work together across functional lines. Marketing has the broadest understanding of the brand and business needs, and is therefore ideally suited to serve as the single point of accountability for site performance, across a host of KPIs that center around driving revenue and increasing brand health. Marketing should also be responsible for coordinating these cross-functional teams, to ensure that the specialized expertise of all players rolls up into an integrated, brand-based approach to the website.

New Rule of Branding

4. Mass media spend is a waste of brand builders' precious budgets. There’s enough truth behind this sentiment to convince countless organizations and brand builders to go digital-only. The latter argue that cord cutting, DVRs and the march to mobile mean consumers don’t watch broadcast TV, let alone TV commercials. Terrestrial radio’s listenership continues to decline. Out-of-home’s impact is difficult to measure and only contributes to the noise and clutter. Hence the rise of a “new rule” that reflects the increasingly pervasive belief that brands ought to forego mass media advertising in favor of digital-only campaigns.

NEW New Rule of Branding

4. For many brands, paid mass media can and should be part of the mix. A recent study by The Advertising Research Foundation analyzed the results of more than 3,200 campaigns. Their findings? The most significant boost to ROI happens when brands combine digital and TV advertising. Campaigns that used paid digital and TV delivered a 60 percent increase in ROI over campaigns that used only one channel. TV still creates uniquely impactful opportunities to connect with people’s emotions. Plus, there’s still enough people watching cable and satellite TV to consider adding these into a mix that includes Hulu, Pandora, Spotify and other paid digital options. The net? For many brands, it’s a mistake to dismiss the value of paid mass media before running the numbers.

Mike Stefaniak, Chief Strategy Officer & Partner, Hanson Dodge

Mike leads Hanson Dodge’s efforts to deliver transformational branding, marketing and digital strategies for clients. He brings 24 years of experience in strategy and implementation to the agency, including 20+ years in functional leadership and executive roles. Over the course of his career, Mike has led nearly 100 branding or rebranding engagements for a wide range of organizations. He recently completed a three-year tenure as an adjunct professor at Marquette University, where he taught a graduate school course on brand strategy. Mike and his wife, Shelley, have two children (both adults) and are avid runners.

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