A large metro newspaper advertising account executive on LinkedIn was asking for some guidance today: “One of the biggest limitations of effectively branding is the client themselves. I have had a lot of pushback from clients stating that they do not want to push the envelope to get their message out. How do you deal with it for ad campaigns?”
As I replied (to unanimous agreement in the forum), branding comes from the top, not just from the marketing department and never from an account representative of a marketing channel (although, a good one will be able to sell the “fit” of what he or she offers with the brand already that’s in place, especially if historical proof can be provided). Branding is not just one advertising or integrated marketing campaign, or even a themed series of them that lasts for years.
Many “professional branders” or vendors think it’s something else altogether or concentrate on just one segment of what makes up “the brand,” but branding is everything from the lighting in a retail store, to the public actions of the CEO (good or bad), to customer service, to the return policy, to professionalism (or lack thereof), to ethics, to “on hold” wait times, to public perception, and many other things. Much more than the shouted “warm and fuzzy” advertising message, logo or slogan (which too many companies think is all the branding they need).
Marketing is not branding, and branding is not marketing, but they are intimately linked. If customer experiences do not live up to the expectations of a company’s marketing and advertising, or a website, or immaculate public or media relations, then those undeliverable promises will actually hurt the brand. Branding is top down. Marketing and advertising cannot save the brand all by itself, which may be a surprise to some CEOs. Robert Bean of Northstar Partners succinctly calls a brand a “promise delivered.” If the CEO, COO, CMO (and possibly CFO) or owner of the company does not see the value in branding, the argument from a vendor — or even internal marketers — is lost before it has even begun.