Friday, April 24, 2009

Brand is D-E-A-D. Is Marketing Terminal?

Brand used to be the reason we chose one product over another (Coke, Niblets corn, Gap jeans, Eukanuba dog food). But, today, more and more of us are looking for quality and features first -- and brand be damned. Lesson? Brand is dead. It really is – and, as marketers, we’d better figure out how to replace it; otherwise, we're looking suspiciously terminal, too.

I suspect the demise of brand is part of the “Fool me twice/STIM paradigm.” We neither trust brand, nor have the money to buy it. In short, the head has come off the chicken. If you don’t believe me, consider this.

An study recently reported that, when put to the test, a family of four couldn't tell the difference between house brands and name brands. Some people (including me) even suspect that the store and name brands are actually the same item with a different label.

Even fad-obsessed teenagers aren’t buying brand. This is revolutionary! When my daughter was a child, the summer camp folks called her “The Toys ‘R Us kid.” She had every fad toy that came out and carted them everywhere (my bad). Her generation (Y) bought everything by brand. At the turn of the century, when Jen Y entered her early twenties, however, that started to change. In wonder, I watched her shop price at Wal-mart and Target. She still does that a fair amount (okay, not Wal-Mart.. but that's another rant) , but she also shops for product features online first, then checks blogs to see how her peers like the product she’s looking at (it's mob marketing on meth). Today’s teenagers, Generation Z, have started years earlier. A New York Times article reports that, among this group, brand is already “losing its cool at the mall.”

More evidence that brand is dead? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t even exist. I heard yesterday that brands like Westinghouse and Toshiba have existed “in name only” for quite awhile. The New York Times confirmed this, too.

Finally (but not really, finally, if you know what I mean), a friend tells me about a great little coffee shop near Naperville, Illinois, which located its independence just down the street from Starbucks. This java interloper is now outshining its big-name competitor in every way. I know a bit about franchising, so I can tell you that, since forever, a major site location strategy of franchisors has been to locate a new shop near a successful mom ‘n pop. Wouldn’t it be just choice if the tables turned and mom ‘n pop (who today might be brother ‘n brother or brother ‘n partner.. whatever!) were putting their new stores near a franchise -- and winning!

Could it be that, all of a sudden, consumers are ready for a little independence? Maybe we’re tired of being lied to – by government, by pharmaceutical companies, by the media, and, most definitely, by brand marketers. Maybe we finally get it. And, most of all, maybe we now can do something about it. We can make our own choices (on the Internet and near Starbucks). See you on the net!


Anonymous said...

Brands are dead? Hmmm. As I drove from Walmart through McDonald’s to the Apple Store the other day, I could have sworn they were alive and well.

For more discussion on the exaggerated rumors of the brand's demise, please visit:

Female Flight said...
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Female Flight said...

I think the point is that one cannot live on brand alone. You've got to have something to back that brand up. For instance, would Apple have the brand today if it wasn't first to market with the iPod, iPhone, iYoufillintheblank. Or, vice versa (maybe).

Or, if Brand was the answer to everything, then New Coke wouldn't have been a failure. I think we all recognize brands but it is 'what has the brand done for me recently' that matters when taking out your wallet. Branding can only get you so far -- your product has to measure up. I do believe in brand management but what's the point of managing a brand when the product is less than stellar. I did a session on branding and used a pink "Mets" hat as an example. Folks immediately thought it was related to Susan Komen Race for a Cure. What does this mean -- to me, a well managed brand that delivers is great but we still need to see value. And, with the economy tanking, the whole idea of value first, brand second may take on a new life.

srskinut said...

Having been a life long (almost) subscriber to "Consumer Reports," I've always considered quality, value, and reliability over brand names alone when recommended. We can all benefit if brand is truly dead or dying; and, hopefully, marketing will follow suit. Who needs more junk mail, etc. and advertising costs passed on to consumers!