The Demise Of Brand-Building

It is clear that the world of marketing has changed, is changing and will continue to change — a lot!

And one of the challenges of change is to filter what is happening now from what is important. This is a challenge we face in our everyday lives (I want to check “Clash of Clans” now, but getting my weekly MediaPost contribution written is important!). It is a challenge we —  people in the marketing ecosystem — face all the time.

I was doing research into understanding how marketing briefings have evolved. I wanted to understand what goals and issues marketers today think are important, versus in the past.

I found plenty of interesting data points. It’s fair to say that until perhaps 10 years ago (or less), marketers focused most of their efforts on initiatives that drove sales and/or built the brand. They used metrics like purchase intent, purchase frequency, and typical brand love measures such as “favorite brand” or “the brand I always buy.” This was then translated into number of weeks “active” (typically the number of weeks with TV support), and a reach/frequency/GRP number per week (again, typically TV numbers).



One thing has not changed, and that is that we still use “sales” as our top priority. And rightly so. As David Ogilvy said: “The purpose of advertising is to sell.”

But everything we do in marketing to get to that sale has changed. Gone are (and should be) the days that we used TV activity and weight as the proxy to show we are “active” in marketing.

But in the hoopla that is modern marketing, it appears that brand-building is taking a bit of a back seat. And when I say “back seat,” I mean it's becoming less and less of a priority. And when I say “less,” I mean it now ranks dead-last, according to a CMO survey from September of last year.

Sure, that data is six months old, but you’re not going to tell me that these numbers have shifted so immensely since the data came out that its findings are no longer true. According to the survey of 255 senior U.S. marketers, their top priorities for the next 12 months ranked as follows:

1. Superior product quality.
2. Excellent service.
3. Trusting relationship.
4. Low price.
5. Superior innovation.
6. Brand.

Out of six priorities, the brand came sixth. And to make matters worse, those same marketers were asked to rank each item in terms of first, second or third priority. And guess what, not only did “brand” lag as sixth overall, it also gained its largest share as third priority. So it came last, and last again in terms of priorities.

I worry about this. In today’s overstimulated, ADD world, your “brand” is incredibly important. I think you need more “brand” than ever. Successful companies understand this and significantly invest in branding. Just think of Apple, Starbucks, Campbell Soup, Virgin and Uber. I am sure you can name plenty more brands that take their heritage and brand DNA serious. I bet none of them are car companies (with the exception of Tesla? Or is the brand actually Elon Musk?).

So what is your brand-building strategy? And where does its importance rank for the next 12 months?

17 comments about "The Demise Of Brand-Building".
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  1. Doug Schumacher from Zuum, April 4, 2016 at 12:40 p.m.


    Thanks for the article. You bring up an interesting point regarding the survey.

    Looking at the list of items preceeding Brand, most of those strike me as strong brand-building initiatives. In the Seth Godin school of purple cow branding, making a more remarkable product is one of the top ways to establish a brand and market it. Product quality, customer service, trust, and good customer relations. 

    If those aren't brand building, I'm curious what the survey meant when they refer to brand. 

    Thanks for posting.

  2. Ira Kalb from Kalb & Associates, April 4, 2016 at 12:41 p.m.

    How good have CMOs been at predicting? Surveying them is certainly insufficient. What's most important is focusing on buyers. Brand works because it taps into how the buyer's mind works.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 4, 2016 at 12:50 p.m.

    Agreed, Doug. That was my first thought when reading this article. Is it possible that advertisers think a consumer can "love" a brand without regard to prior positive experiences with it, product quality, how it positions itself, how well it keeps the consumer informed about its products and their best use, how responsibly it behaves, its pricing, its record as an innovator, etc.? Or do they think that all of these are separate, unrelated issues and loving a brand is a totally subjective matter, without specific reference points. If that's true, then this reminds me of the widely held belief in some media circles that people love certain channels---without regard for the kinds of content they present. That, too, is prepostrous.

  4. Tracy Levitz from Adverteria, April 4, 2016 at 2:28 p.m.

    Absolutely in agreement with Doug and Ed. A brand is so much the creation of the consumer, developed over time and primarily driven by experience -- quality and service are absolutely in their rightful spots. Positioning is where so many seem to fall short.

  5. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), April 4, 2016 at 2:38 p.m.

    Ed and Doug - the space allotted for my weekly contribution is limited, so I did not include any commentary to Doug's point. I think I only partially agree.

    Yes, consumers' "brand love" increases if they love the quality and service or other components that make up the brand architecture. But at the same time, there are many, many brands who are so ubiquitous and/or in such like-for-like categories that building a stand-out brand beyond the functional aspects of quality and service (or price for that matter) are important. What do you do when you feel like a Milky Way and there is only a Snickers? What do you do if your usual brand of toilet paper is not there. What if you're hungry and you don't immediately see a McDonald's? In these instances having a powerful brand can make the difference of walking to the next convenience store for a Milky Way or driving another block to find your McDonald's. 

    Brand building requires more than excelling at the elements that marketers ranked. It requires a back story, a proposition beyond what it does to/for you, some emotion, etc. So I agree that the elements that were ranked as important are, indeed, important. But you can't just focus on those and not actually build your brand itself.

    And that it was the third priority when brands were even discussed, that baffled me even more!

  6. Aimee Stern from stern Communications, April 4, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    All of the items in the list are part of brand building. Seems to me the survey was flawed.

  7. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 4, 2016 at 7:47 p.m.

    As I look at that list, I think we need to take care in guessing what the survey takers meant by "Brand". My hunch is that they meant explicit and focused projects whose only goal is to build the brand.

    After all, improving product quality (depending on what we mean by "quality") is a critical activity that has tremendous impact on brand. Ensuring that consumers have excellent service interactions with your comnpany...has tremendous impact on brand. Superior innovation should have...tremendous impact on brand.

    Not to minimize the clutter of the ideas here (and the vagary of each survey statement). But it seems to me that these CMO's are focused on their brand's value- but they are less focused on explicit camnpaigns with the sole target of building brand. That may not be entirely bad...assuming I'm correct that what they said about these other issues all contribute to brand.

    I would love to guess we are reaching the point where they understand that brand is critical - but it's one of many critical issues for creating long term health for your company. Yet, I'm not sure that's really what's happening. It may merely be that the advertising fad of "all about brand" has faded for a period without these CMO's developing a creative & deeper understanding of how brand fits with everything else.

  8. Patrick Scullin from Ames Scullin O'Haire, inc., April 5, 2016 at 8:57 a.m.

    What a load of B.S. Of the six factors listed, the average CMO has little influence or bearing on any–– except brand (and its image in the mind of consumers).

    This survey is a red flag to wave at a charging bull. Distraction, pure distraction.

    We live in an age of parity, the CMO is charged with finding ways to make brands relevant and important.

  9. JR Little from Carat Global, April 5, 2016 at 9:14 a.m.

    Brand still matters but the way we build them has changed. I used to work in a branding agency and now work in digital media. The entire brand-buiding process needs to be flipped now because of social media (which often works like customer service and adveritsing in one). Feel awkward doing this, but I wrote a book on this exact topic

  10. JR Little from Carat Global, April 5, 2016 at 9:15 a.m.

    Sorry, book is called Listening Brands on Amazon. 

  11. Neil Mahoney from Mahoney/Marketing replied, April 5, 2016 at 10:01 a.m.

    In my book, Social Media Rules, I point out that "branding" is/was a much over-used word during the past decade.  Marketers were using "branding" like you could buy it at the supermarket by the pound.  Branding is hard.  Branding is expensive.  Branding is forever.

    In the article the attributes that ranked above "Branding" were all the things Marketers need to build their brand.  You can't have one without the other.

  12. David Heitman from Wiland, April 5, 2016 at 10:58 a.m.

    As a long-time "brand guy" I'm inclined to agree with the premise that branding is not what it used to be.

    Not irrelevant by any means, but in the post-funnel, digital era we now find ourselves in, it seems we have moved to to a situation where touchpoint ubiquity is the key to getting and staying on a customer's radar.

    Sure brand is being reinforced at each touchpoint, but it is the frequency and relevancy that seems to hold sway, turning prospects into customers, and customers into repeat customers/social advocates.

  13. Bill Burnett from Good Citizen Media Group, April 5, 2016 at 1:06 p.m.

    All the terms given as being priortiies above branding ARE branding.  The brand expresses those traits.

  14. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, April 5, 2016 at 5:58 p.m.

    Ask yourself this question. However many brands that are still known and fuctioning from 40 years ago have gone out of business, merged or changed names?

  15. Brian Durocher from GTB, April 6, 2016 at 1:22 p.m.

    Nothing is more worn out than predictions of brand building demise. Having been on the side of the respondents I understand the list however. Anything that seems less than corporeal seems like it's lower priority in the crush of work. The list above "Brand" all contribute strongly to the brand, but brands are more than them as well. Not enough marketers understand or acknowledge that fact.

  16. Steven Haro from Lift-360 LLC, April 10, 2016 at 5:43 p.m.

    The average tenure for chief marketing officers of leading U.S. consumer brand companies dropped from 48 months to 44 months, according to the 12th annual CMO tenure study by executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart.  In the same way that shareholder impatience with CEOs results in business decisions that are postitive near term yet harmful in the long-term, CMOs are under tremendous pressure to support near term sales targets leaving them less focused on longer term brand building.  

    As we all know, how a question is posed in a survey and the emotional state of the person being surveyed can taint the validity of the responses.  A better question would be what is the right areas to focus on vs. what are you most concerned about right now.  

    I agree with most of the other comments on here... I think we all agree brand building involves everything that the entire company says, does and produces as experienced through the eyes of the customer.  So to somehow separate sales from brand buidling or product quality is really silly.  Again my earlier points that; the wording of the survey question and the emotional state of the CMO being under pressure for near term results should not lead one to believe the survey results should guide their priorities going forward.

    I'm sure there are many other opinions but that is my simple reaction to this article from my good friend Maarten Albarda who I have taught with at Stanford's Exec Education Programs.


  17. Jennifer Blatnik from Juniper Networks, May 1, 2016 at 12:02 p.m.

    I completely agree with Steven Hanro.  To think the other priorities listed above brand (quality, service, relationship, price and innovation) isn't related or intertwined in brand is just incorrect.  In our digital age where everything is metric driven, we need to be more thoughtful of the context of metrics and not just metrics itself both in creation and interpretation of data/metrics.  This is why brand should be measured as a collection of metrics as it has always been done but even to a greater extent than was done before.

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