Move over purpose. Sayonara spin. Let your influencers take a break.
The best brands will be those that don’t exist, at least not overtly. Your branding strategy should be for your brand to disappear.
Think about it: Brands popped into existence a century or so ago because businesses armed with new tech and cash got bigger, blowing up the local, personal, and authentic relationships they once had with their customers. Media filled the void, first with print and then experiential radio and TV, which provided the opportunity to invent ersatz relationships.
Distance didn’t matter. Facts didn’t, either. Brands were invented to give consumers reasons to buy things made by people they didn’t know, in places they’d never visit, for imagined reasons that would never be proved true or false.
I talked about it a few years ago in a segment on CNN.
Nowadays, we’re seeing businesses and stakeholders reconnect, as a new generation of consumers evidence that old-fashioned need for local, personal, and authentic relationships. They also want businesses to operate in ways that don’t harm them, their communities, or the planet, and the Internet is a tool to give them at least partial visibility into those effects.
It’s the counterpoint to the greater insights that big data and various surveillance tech are giving businesses into consumers’ wants and needs.
Visibility is a two-way street.
So what does this mean for brands?
There’s a lot of talk these days about purpose, as if the trick is to replace all those nonsense promises that people would admire you for the beer your drank or car you drove with promises to do good in the world. America’s Business Roundtable recently declared that companies should be “…engines for creativity, innovation, and economic opportunity,” as if the role of business in society has changed.
No it hasn’t.
Our expectations for disclosure and awareness have changed, as have the tools with which we can check whether or not they’re being met. Nobody wants companies to dedicate money to expenditures intended to demonstrate purpose…we want every expenditure to reflect our values and hopes for the future.
That means the challenge isn’t to invent new marketing campaigns touting good works on the environment, diversity, or another other social issue; we want companies to avoid doing harm to those qualities we value, at least, and further them through their very operation, more hopefully. Brands need to enable this understanding, not obscure it.
It makes the old definition of brand as a stand in seem more like a distraction these days.
Instead of being an invented thing that separates (or blinds) people to the reality of business, a brand should be the engine, or platform for establishing and maintaining the transparency necessary for deep, credible, and therefore trusting and committed relationships.
How well a company communicates how it spends that money, what comes from it, and how well-informed its customers and other stakeholders are will be the measure of brand success.
The days of opaque brands is over. They should be transparent. As David Ogilvie said, “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
The best brands will emerge from facilitating understanding and endorsement of the best businesses; as such, they will be transparent, and the artifice of branding will disappear.