I’m working on my next column on brand concepts, sifting through a lot of the complaints that have been leveled at my reductionism (that every instance of brand is, by definition, tangible).
Most of the people passionate enough to send me hate mail complain that I’m oversimplifying the complexity of marketing. Apparently, because I’m arguing that the definition of the word *brand* should be understood in its simplist form, these people make the knee-jerk assumption that I’m cynically tossing out all of the other concepts associated with brand building–like the CFO with horns and a pitch-fork that must be haunting their dreams. Is it possible that the universe can contain one core concept for brand that is concrete, and also accommodate derivative concepts that are *distinct* but arrayed around the core? Heavens no. Everything must be lumped into the vague domain of a single word. It’s like brand has become the magic bag of Felix the Cat–it can be anything you want it to be.
Others, like the letter sent to my editor at BW (the one from Gaurav Bahirvani), go a step further by mounting a defense for the soft subtlety of marketing that defies quantitative analysis:
I disagree with Kenton regarding marketers not being adept at
demonstrating return on investment. Marketing or branding is a
qualitative aspect. It is not a 2+2 sum which will give you a definite
answer. In marketing, you’re playing with emotions and human psyche,
Okay, let’s parse that for just a moment. He disagrees with the notion that marketers aren’t adept at proving ROI. My assumption would be that he would follow that statement by showing how, in fact, marketers are good at proving ROI. But no, he mounts the defense that marketing is about emotions and human psyche, not numbers. Which, I guess, is a proposition that marketers should be immune from having to prove ROI. Why? Because it’s too hard to give a definite answer.
As a businessman, if you’re on my payroll you need to show me why putting a dollar in your budget is a better bet than putting that dollar in the stock market–or in the lottery, for that matter. As long as marketers argue that they are entitled to immunity from quantitative performance review, simply because they’re dealing with something that is hard to measure–and that everyone else should just "get it"–they’re lemmings: they’re apparently ignorant of the tidal wave of marketing metrics and accountability measures that are sweeping through the business world. Sarbanes-Oxley anyone?
Finally, there are those who will accommodate me, grudgingly, as some curious fundamentalist. They’re not quite sure why I’m insisting on this line of argument, but they’ll grant that I’m not entirely wrong even if I’m not entirely right. The most gracious of these is over at hypocritical, which goes into some interesting detail about the mindset of marketers who are arguing against me.
Here’s the thing. He’s not wrong. He just has a different semantic
argument for his definition of the word "brand." It happens to be
completely at odds with my definition. And that, to quote Stuart Smalley, is okay.
My whole point has been that it’s not okay. And this is the heart of the problem. Please understand this. I AM NOT ASKING YOU TO AGREE WITH ~~MY~~ DEFINITION OF BRAND. And I, personally, will not countenance your creation of a NEW definition of brand. Why? I’ll be the *first* to champion a living language in which words can be created, modified, exploded–we didn’t get to 100,000+ plus words in the English language by insisting on stasis. But when you get to the point of MASS CONFUSION, you must stabilize the language you use to communicate and transfer knowledge, or you embrace intellectual oblivion.
The simple fact is that the standard definition of brand, the one that defines a brand as a symbol that sets one company’s products apart from competitors, is entirely serviceable today in 2005, and the attempts to push derivative concepts into the meaning are self-serving, egotistical and misguided–not to mention professionally suicidal.
The heart of the problem, to me, is this: Marketers have creative minds that are able to see many shades of gray. There’s a lot of value in seeing the nuances in life–it allows you to apprehend patterns, to anticipate trends before you see the numbers, to see more than those who can only see black and white. But there comes a time when so much gray becomes impossible to navigate. We talk past each other like a bunch of babbling idiots, each asserting our own spin on the grayness, our own self-congratulatory definitions. At that point it becomes necessary to step pack, to prune the vast overgrown tree and pare it down to the strongest branches.
My entire argument is that that time is now.