Has the role of brands changed? 


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2018)

Claims that technology has taken the helm, that marketing has outlived itself and that brands have lost their previous crucial role to corporate strategy can be heard all around. Technology providers say that brands have long since been a thing of the past. A number of companies are saying that marketing has been phased out in general, with its tasks having instead been taken over by new silos such as “social media marketing”, “influencer marketing” and other current buzzword constructions. Nevertheless, the brand continues to be crucial to the success of companies and their strategy, according to the majority of entrepreneurs and executives. 

The question however arises as to what is meant by entrepreneurial success. Does it exclusively involve short-term turnover, “shareholder value” or sustainable company development? When it comes to the setup and development of brands, Apple is the ultimate role model for most companies, one which they would love to emulate. It is ironic that a technology company lies behind this brand.  The problem with taking on Apple’s strategy is that the associated strategic and organisational consequences are difficult to overcome, which is why most corporate executives shy away from it. So is it better then to simply relinquish brands? German retailers only recently argued in favour of strong competitive brands, as apparently nothing can be achieved without them. Do we still need brands after all, then?

Is technology the be-all and end-all? Digitalisation is undoubtedly unstoppable when it comes to brand management and its various brand processes. Technological applications are of course also put to use here, as they make daily brand work faster, better and more efficient. However, for some time now we have been left with the impression that it is all just about “marketing”, about using tools at all costs, whether or not they meet the requirements of the respective brand and its processes. The most important thing is for leads to be generated. Targeting, retargeting, sales and more sales have evidently become fashionable criteria.

Do companies now have to invest in tools because it reflects the current trend? Is it normal that product suppliers cannot answer questions specifically asking for a solution to brand management at events such as DMEXCO? Entire busloads of marketing experts from individual companies are carted to trade fairs where they do not know what they are looking for or should be looking for, yet they have been given explicit instructions to return with new tools. Must a new marketing tool be pursued anew every week at all costs? Influencer marketing, digital marketing, content marketing and other neologisms that will be forgotten again by tomorrow are the order of the day. Is anyone even interested anymore in what marketing actually is? Does anyone remember its original definition? Marketing has outlived itself and is merely an empty word or a placeholder of a historic silo. We have evidently reverted to the “sales promotions” of the 1970s.

It is not without reason that the CMO of P&G asked whether all (brand) companies had completely lost their minds. The thing that companies’ brand management require the most is a pioneering digital strategy. This is different to the automation of existing analogue processes, despite the fact that many continue to believe so.

What lies behind this development? Two phenomena not only tuned the world upside down, but also the world of brands: digitalisation on the one hand, and the loss of values such as trust, honesty and credibility on the other. Values which constitute a brand in the eyes of the customers and which have obviously been neglected entirely by many industry professionals. Two observations on this topic: digitalisation is evidently resulting in the comprehensive use of AI which follows a single maxim – to turn money into even more money. Sustainability falls by the wayside. The media’s attention economy has become increasingly automated in recent years. Outrage, gags, unbridled emotionalisation and falsehoods are what currently garner attention. This is sold as creativity, when in reality it’s all about getting attention at all costs.

“America first” and the Twitter presence of the incumbent US President are good examples of this phenomenon in action today. AI specialist Sebastian Oschatz even claims that the digital attention economy and artificial intelligence deprive each sustainable market introduction of its foundation. To those who wish to read about “the scarce resource of attention as the most irresistible drug of them all”, I recommend Georg Franck, The Economy of Attention, 1998.

Performance is the ultimate deciding factor regardless of one's attitude towards brand management. And this does not refer to turnover and brand value, but rather: how can we improve, how can we optimise our processes and attain our strategic objectives? But above all, how can a positive brand experience that is consistent across all touchpoints be guaranteed as a prerequisite to success? This of course assumes that these aims are clearly defined by brand orientation and that the brand organisation is allowed to reach these goals. Taking a look at the “brand value chain” is recommended before making technological investments as part of “marketing meets technology”.  “Transition zones” are especially advantageous for orientation purposes, providing technological support and complementing processes.

Regardless of the fact that the term is often used incorrectly, flying to Silicon Valley and walking around without a tie while wearing trainers and creased trousers isn’t “disruptive”. This type of thing is merely embarrassing and counter-productive. It also isn’t really visionary to cry “Design Thinking”, lay down artificial grass across entire office floors and cover the walls in graffiti and stickers without substantial and consistent strategic and management change.

The brand is communication! What else? And providing a positive brand experience remains the primary task of brand executives. Making relevant content available in an innovative, consistent and sustainable manner at the right point in time and at the right location of the audience – once called the target group – all while taking into account the respective brand values is therefore more important than ever. Marketing, some type of silo, potentially competing departments and the miracle drug of storytelling are of little use without a clear corporate direction as the origin of all trade. Brand organisation employees must also be authorised to act in accordance with the brand strategic objectives.

This ideally requires a pioneer, visionary or CEO as the upper brand executive. Someone who determines the strategic direction with courage, responsibility and perseverance who is aware that brand management is not delegable if the intention is for the brand to contribute to corporate success as an asset. This responsibility must be distributed across multiple shoulders in modern organisational forms, of course. This requires the CEO to truly appreciate their new role as coach and enabler who specifies the general conditions.

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Günther Misof has over 40 years of experience as the founder, Managing Director and Managing Partner of various brand management consulting firms.  He founded “The Business of Brand Management” in 2017 and has been a Cosmos member of The Group of Analysts since 2018.

Picture credit © Matt Helbig/Unsplash


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