Jan Gordon
August 15, 2014

Why Your Brand Is Not What You’re Selling

By Michael Brenner


Brand has always been about trust.

Brand has always been about choice. And most executives in most boardrooms will agree that a strong brand can provide a competitive advantage.

Today, marketing is evolving. Overly promotional tactics can actually hurt your brand image. Digital, social and mobile consumers are looking to interact with brands on their terms – when and where and how they want.

And yet many businesses continue to define their brand based on what they sell. And many marketers continue to push that message on the shrinking minority who click on banners, watch TV commercials (on TV, in real time) and open emails.

“Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left” is one of my favorite quotes from popular author and branding expert Seth Godin.

And I agree with him because effective content marketing delivers content people actually want: real stories that people need or that they will actually enjoy.

To do this you have to follow a very small set of simple rules:

  1. Make it interesting. A great story. Relevant to your audience. An important lesson or a key trend.
  2. Make the reader the hero of the story. Don’t sell. Connect on a human level. Tap into emotions.
  3. Take the brand out of the story. Don’t promote the brand. Be the platform. Not the story itself.

Some iconic consumer brands like Coca-Cola can break these rules because for many people all over the world, there is already an emotional connection to the brand.

I mean who doesn’t want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. And almost all of you know what I mean without even clicking the link. (But seriously, go watch it.)

Take the brand out of the story? Don’t promote our products? Yeah, right!

I know this is tough. Whether you are with a large company or you work for yourself, we all work for businesses that want to see results. We have limited budgets and even shorter attention spans. We do not have the time to prove ROI.

How many of you have been asked the question “Oh yeah? But how does this help me sell more stuff?”

We are constantly fighting this instinct to talk about our products or promote our brand.

Don’t try to manage your brand. Manage your character as a business!

I recently saw this video, simply called “IBM on Brand” (embedded below) by Jon Iwata that provides some amazing and heartfelt perspective. Jon is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communication at IBM. He is also a 30-year veteran of the company so I think he knows a little bit about the tradition of the IBM brand. Here is a summary transcript:

  • In the video, Jon talks about how there is not much formal documentation in all the 100-year archives on the IBM brand. And yet it has grown into a “globally recognized, respected and valued” brand.
  • They don’t try to manage the IBM brand they try to manage their “character as a business.” And they’ve never “defined IBM by what they are selling.”
  • Jon continues that they’ve learned that “if you make that mistake, you will have to go through a lot of expense and trouble” to change people’s minds once whatever it is that you are selling, is replaced by something new. Jon used great examples from punch cards, to mainframes, to PCs, to cloud and analytics.
  • So what defines the brand if it isn’t defined by lots of documentation and brand guidelines and what you sell?
  • His answer is corporate character which he defines as your “belief system, purpose and mission.” Jon suggests that “if we take care of that, the brand takes care of itself.”
  • He also suggests that this drives them to change but also to maintain the things that should never change.Check it out here. I really suggest you watch the 2:15 minutes.

What does “Brand” mean to you?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.


This piece was originally published on Linkedin as Your Brand Is Not What You Sell and is republished here, with permission.

Michael Brenner is Head of Strategy . Former VP of Marketing and Content Strategy . Speaker, Author and Blogger .

Please visit his excellent blog, connect with him on Linkedin and follow him on Twitter @BrennerMichael.

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