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The Incessant Drumbeat of Branding

For this week’s tip, I am bringing you a great piece from ace commercial copywriter and colleague Peter Bowerman. In his newsletter — for other copywriters — he shares a conversation he had with a marketing director about branding. 

Peter’s thoughts resonated with me, especially with respect to local businesses. Sometimes owners of smaller businesses worry unnecessarily about their branding. 

Because the following is from a newsletter, Peter’s voice is informal and fun. Enjoy! 

Branding Overrated


Marketing Director (& Moi) Collectively Roll Our Eyes at “Branding”

Recently had a conversation with a marketing director—and new prospect—that went well. And it went well largely because we found we were kindred (marketing) spirits.

We were discussing the incessant drumbeat of “branding” these days, and he opined that most of the talk about “brand voice” and “brand identity” you hear ad nauseum these days is pretty much BS.

I had to smile as I agreed. It reminded me of some verbiage I’d read recently on a job posting, where one of the skills they were looking for from a candidate was this:

Fine-tuning a brand tone of voice and style manual to foster brand consistency across all enterprise communications, and ensure messaging aligns with our brand values and brand voice.

Wow. They managed to use “brand” four times in one sentence. No mean feat.

Just one man’s opinion (and one that won’t endear me to some marketers), but I say that language like the above is the kind “brand-marketing” agencies use to make what they do seem far more complicated (and hence, worthy of high fees…) than it actually is.

When “branding experts” talk about the non-negotiable need for a company to create a powerful and unique brand (“or DIE”), most of what they’re saying is designed to create job security for them, not necessarily ultimate value for a company.

Both he and I agreed that a voice that’s credible, authoritative, engaging and authentic is what every company is really looking for—and should be looking for. Is there REALLY some “brand voice/identity” that Company A uses that’s appreciably different than Company B? 

Sure, you make allowances for the product being sold: Apple, say, has a more casual voice than IBM, but that’s just a matter of asking enough of the right questions to understand who the audience is, and adjusting your copy accordingly.

Maybe we’re saying the same thing in different ways. To-may-to, To-mah-to, etc. But, do you need exhaustive brand studies to arrive at that “brand voice”? Is some “inner-sanctum” knowledge required to do competent work in this arena? Not in my world. 

From Bob Hoffman, a four-decade ad-industry veteran, curmudgeon and someone who has never suffered (marketing) fools gladly:

“Brand studies last for months, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and generally have less impact on business than cleaning the drapes.”

One more gem from Bob—one that used to be so blindingly obvious to anyone who dared call themselves a marketer, yet, today, incredibly enough, it’d get blank looks:

We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand. We get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.”

So, the next time you hear “branding blah-blah-blah” similar to the above, just know there’s likely nothing particularly deep, weighty or inscrutable about it.

Easy Web Tip 319: It’s good to have a professional, consistent look with your marketing, but you don’t have to overthink your branding.

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