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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Branding Only Works on Cattle

Have now read Jonathan Salem Baskin's book: Branding Only Works on Cattle: The New Way to Get Known (and drive your competitors crazy). He also has  a supporting blog.

First of all, although I have existed in the midst of the profession for some time, I am not a marketer. I was taught that brand and its equity were the things that advertising spending was always trying to establish and then re-inforce. It was positioned as establishing attention and then maintaining it. Then this would naturally lead to changes in behavior, most especially the buying of your product. Baskin says that the last transition is a big assumption.

Baskin's book is deliciously iconoclastic. He starts by pointing out that little advertisement really works as expected at all ... ad repetition can even decrease the likelihood of the buying behavior we desire. The vaunted 'brand equity', may not be as clear a useful measure as we thought.

I recall many a time in front of the TV, seeing endless repetitions of an ad, or the often bizarre and absurd nature of Superbowl ads and thinking 'Will this cause me to buy this product?'. I found myself saying no. I even started thinking negatively of the brands behind the ads. If I could figure out what they were selling at all. Of course the traditional belief is that ads establish and maintain brand equity, and very well known brands have benefited from this process.

He even briefly covers techniques like brain scanning, where he points out that determining how a brain lights up when exposed to a brand may be about awareness, but this does not mean it is about purchase behavior. Context also matters.

Baskin says he is about fundamentally changing the philosophy of marketing. He is also skeptical about most of what is being done with Web 2.0, since he says it does not contribute to behavior. While conversations with your brand are what are supposed to be happening online, few conversations actually happen. The only extended conversations are arguments. Video mashups are seen by many, but do they drive useful behavior beyond entertainment?

Given how much whole industries are built up to to support the current brand philosophy, and the philosophy behind brand conversations, this will be hard to sell.

Search has become very important, as he says ' ... Loyalty is not only as fleeting as 'what have you done for me lately would suggest, but it is even more tenuously dependent on what my community thinks about it or what it says about what you did for the next customer ... '. He also suggests that " ... the content consumers experience doesn't build brand equity but rather spends it ... '.

He suggests that user generated content is the 'wrong answer to the right question' , and that it leads to wasting the consumers time, rather than engaging them. In another quote " entertaining consumers is just a distraction ...".

Baskin thinks that most game-associated marketing, such as product placement of brands in a game, is wasted. He does praise Alternate Reality Games (ARG) which try to layer multiple kinds of experience and interact directly with the customer. He gives some good examples that are worth reading, pointing to Dave Szulborski's book: "This is not a Game: ..." for background. On my list.

Late in the book in a section he calls 'A Modest Proposal' where he suggests management principles that include methods that use biological and complexity models. Good thought, but the book was unclear about exactly how these simulation-based based methods would be implemented, especially in current marketing cultures. So the proposal is more than modest. He points to Deming's quality work as another possible approach for improving marketing.

Overall I really liked this book. He echoes some suspicions I have had about marketing rigor. It will make me think differently about branding from now on. I think he is right when he says it is all about consumer behavior, not just impressing them with out cleverness. They may play, even engage, but will they buy? It is all about real consumer behavior in the right context.

Jonah Bloom in AdAge says it succinctly:

" A book that not only raises serious questions about many of the methods used by today's marketers, but actually argues that branding as most people think of it is bullshit and that its proponents couldn't get us to tie our shoelaces, much less reprogram our subconscious to buy their stuff. The central argument here is that for all marketers' talk, man-hours and budgets, they waste a lot of time on things that don't change consumer behavior.... "


Anonymous said...

“Brands Are Dead,” according to Jonathan Salem Baskin, who wrote, “Branding Only Works On Cattle.”

In a November 2008 post, Mr. Baskin says, among other things, “Nobody carries brands around in their heads. Nobody has a relationship with a brand. Or lives a brand lifestyle. Brands aren’t conversations, and they’re not bought, possessed, or coveted. Companies don’t own them. Neither do consumers or shareholders.”

Here’s a different point of view:


Anonymous said...

I'm with briancreath. What you've related sounds like the flakiest of marketing thinking.

Certainly it follows the utopianism of social media anarchists who believe that everything should and will disappear.

But brands deliver value to consumers: They make choosing products easier.

In just one trip to the supermarket, the average shopper is confronted with around 100 shopping decisions. Imagine if we had to read box or can every time. That would mean that what used to be a 45 minute trip would require evaluating at least 400 products.

On the other hands, brands in the soup aisle make it possible to walk down the aisle and pick up the can you want. (For some, that's Campbell's. For other's that's Progresso. For yet others, they opt for the BRAND which is the store brand - which usually they've come to trust because they shop at the store regularly.)

And how do they do it? They carry that brand logic around in their heads - very much like Trout & Ries suggested they do back in the 70's.