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why I’m worried that brands are losing their power

June 22, 2012


I’ve grown up (personally and professionally) in the glory days of brands; and advertising, for that matter.

A time when companies spent millions of dollars every year to create powerful, meaningful, engaging brands.  Brands that really resonated with consumers.  Brands that conjured up memories of childhood, favourite family recipes and good times (Kraft).  Brands that united people, regardless of where in the world you happened to live (Coke).   Brands that made ugly, desirable (Volkswagon).

A time when advertisers took chances; and hired agencies based on their ability and willingness to take chances.  A time when agencies and clients alike hired people for their business savvy, strategic insights and creative talent — and created environments where they could be nurtured, where they would thrive and grow.

A time when everyone knew that it was brands that attracted, and kept, customers.  Products and services could, and would, come and go.  But brands … brands were aspirational.  And it was the values that brands stood for, the images they conveyed that meant something.  Brands were the reason why consumers picked one product over another, chose Company A over the competition.  And stayed loyal.

Can you say that now?  Not so much, in my opinion.  Today it seems to be all about slashing prices.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know companies are having a very tough time staying afloat.  But I don’t see businesses booming, even with all the headlines that scream “deep discounts, prices slashed, save up to 70%”, etc.

What I see is the killing of brands.  It saddens me.  And it worries me, because I know all about the power they have.

If you’ve got to put something on sale, put it on sale.  But don’t do it at the expense of your greatest asset — your brand.  Let’s say, for example, that you run a luxury hotel and have too much inventory.  In an attempt to increase bookings you decide to discount rooms or create special promotions.  All I’m saying is, do it strategically — within the parameter of your brand — so that your ‘luxury’ positioning doesn’t become a lie.

A strategy that should apply, by the way,  to any business category and every price point, regardless of whether you’re Holt Renfrew or Target, BMW or Kia, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts or Embassy Suites, Bell or Wind Mobile, Special K or a no-name cereal.

We have to stop training consumers to forsake brands for cheap prices because all they’ll do is comparison shop.  And no amount of advertising will ever get them back.

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