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Published: November 27, 2012
 / Winter 2012 / Issue 69

 
 

Best Business Books 2012: Marketing

Vincent thinks that companies should measure a brand’s success by the expectations it creates and the results that it delivers to users. This requires a reality check that mandates answering three simple, but often ignored, questions about a brand: What is it, why does it matter, and how does it create value?

Brand Real is filled with useful lessons for marketers. For example, Vincent clarifies the difference between a brand’s promise and its positioning. A brand’s positioning is the perceptual territory it claims relative to its competitors. A brand promise incorporates its positioning, but also articulates the brand’s reason for existence and defines the benefits of the brand experience in terms of three dimensions: how people think, what they do, and how they feel.

Vincent makes a strong argument for brand simplicity, which is based on his belief that brands exist because consumers hate uncertainty and therefore rely on cues as to what they should expect from products and organizations when making purchase decisions. Thus, brand marketers should not place too much emphasis on symbols, such as a name or logo. Instead, they should seek to clarify the customer’s expectations of the brand experience, and focus their own attention on delivering against those expectations, again and again.

The object is to win what Vincent calls the “memory game,” by creating links in the consumer’s mind between what the brand is and why it matters. He argues that these links among cues, expectations, and experience are fundamentally important, because we all favor brands (such as Apple) that consistently meet or exceed our expectations, and we punish the ones that don’t.

Brand Real mirrors Grow in its strong advocacy of staff engagement as an essential element in brand success. “From the executive suite to the front lines to the investment base,” declares Vincent, “the best way to sustain a real brand is to align the people behind it with the brand promise.” That is, branding begins inside a company, by ensuring that the values and the behaviors of the people working there are a direct reflection of the brand. If they aren’t, Vincent says, it’s because of one or more of five factors: ignorance, doubt, incompetence, poverty (a lack of resources), and a lack of incentive. And if the employees do not reflect the brand, the brand experience will be flawed and the brand promise will be placed at risk.

At a time when many companies are thinking of branding as an exercise in creating a compelling logo, a sticky website, an entertaining advertisement, or an aesthetically pleasing package, Vincent reminds us that branding is first and foremost a strategic act. It requires “purposeful conduct” in the quest to influence how people behave, both customers and employees. And like any other business strategy, branding should serve as a guide for “mission-critical decisions in capital investment, human resources, research, product development, and operations management.” That’s why Brand Real is as relevant to the CEO as it is to the CMO.

A Buyer’s Market

If Doc Searls is right, the discipline of branding — and indeed, marketing itself — could be on the brink of a fundamental shift. Soon, claims the former advertising executive, whose insights into the effects of digitization on markets became the platform for his current career as a highly regarded technology writer, consumers will be managing business-to-consumer (B2C) companies in much the same way as those companies are managing their vendors.

This change will create a new kind of market — the “Intention Economy,” which is vastly different from the current “Attention Economy,” in which marketers vie to be heard. Searls’s The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge envisions a market in which customers are kings: Their orders are followed, their every need is responded to, and they grant sellers an audience only when they want to. In this economy, digitally empowered shoppers will build personal firewalls that block out unwanted marketing solicitations, and instead they will notify their preferred providers about what they want to buy, when they want to buy it, and how much they want to pay, by issuing the personal equivalent of an RFP.

 
 
 
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