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Prescriptive Branding Never Works

It would seem that ‘Brand Storytelling’ and using real life stories to sell your brand, are now being viewed as the secret to success for many companies - think Barclay’s ‘Digital Eagles’ advert.  It is clear that a human, emotional, real and evocative story is now understood as being vital to successful brand immersion and differentiation but one thing that seems to be missing from the debate, is the word 'truth'.

In today’s over-crowded, over-analysed, and over branded world, real business/brand values are hard to find. In the nineties and noughties, the search for values became a marketing necessity (everybody has them, so should we. The rapid growth of brand consultancy/management meant that most purveyors inevitably followed the same prescriptive approach to brand development – vision (tick), mission (tick), positioning (tick), architecture (tick), strapline (tick) and, oh, we’d better get some values too – four or five should do it (tick). The process, motives and outcomes became homogenized and while this was sustainable for a short time, eventually two fundamentals got lost – real differentiation and most importantly the truth.

When loss of truth was combined with technology shifts that allowed consumers to interrogate multiple brands and make their own informed choices, something elemental was lost too –believability – and without believability, brands lose their reason for being a brand, their integrity, their advocates (inside and outside the business), their market share and asset value – the very things that brand people should be most focused on. The truth is that as the world goes through painful and profound change, businesses have two choices. They can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Previous targets for the world’s collective blame – banks and politicians – have faced the same choices. 

Brand strategists/managers and custodians face the same choices. A word that has been much used recently is ‘authenticity’. To me this smacks of fakery or manufactured truth, so maybe we should stop over complicating things and wake up to the idea that the only thing that is, or ever was, important, is truth. But truth that is single-mindedly promoted to the world as the truth behind the business (or brand), not a truth that has been manufactured to meet customer’s needs. Let’s face it, the truth will always engage, will contribute to higher ideals, will have real meaning again and will, as a result, be believable and gain followers.

I recently advised a global publishing business to lose their publicly expressed brand values – much to the relief of their c-suite, shareholders and audiences. One of them was ‘Boundarylessness’. Need I say more?