Realistic Brand Management Advice

I’m still reading Michel de Montaigne and if he was good enough for Shakespeare he’s good enough for me.

This time the following quote in an essay that discusses how we should be educated got me thinking about Branding:

“Such as have lean and spare bodies stuff themselves out with clothes; so they who are defective in matter endevour to make amends with words

One of the key principles of marketing is distinguishing between what something ‘is’ and what is ‘does’, in other words the benefit rather than the feature, a concern with the solution to the problem. I certainly go along with that.

A classic example of this way of thinking was the radio interview with the executive from Louis Vuitton who was asked how long he had been in the hand bag business.  Dismayed he retorted, “the handbag business? we’re not in the handbag business…we’re in the business of selling dreams!”

Now I’m all for the idea of conveying an idea, and sure Brands make use of associative thinking to give meaning. I’m a Realist too (see Andrew Sayer for more details) and that’s why Michel de Montaigne’s observation captured my attention.

If Branding experts think that their role is changing reality by merely changing meaning through words then the organisations they work for are in deep trouble. As Andrew Collier (Critical Realist) said, we might as well solve the unemployment problem by re-describing people as employed!.

My suggestion would be that Branding experts should concentrate on expressing the true Value Proposition (See Ballantyne, Vargo & Lush et al)  of the product or service, and yes that might be something intangible as ‘happiness’, but mucking about by being manipulatively smart with meaning insults the customer and totally misses the point of the purpose of a Brand.

The Brand should reflect what the product actually does for the customer not be an exercise where organisation executives “stuff themselves out with clothes”. If products and services do not satisfy the needs of customers and deliver the real benefits they seek then Brand Managers should be tackling that issue rather than pretending that something is what it is not through the invention of spurious meanings.


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