Consumers Don't Create Brands, Brands Create Brands!

January 2014

Let's stop the craziness.

After sitting on the sidelines attending a variety of industry conferences over the past five years and listening to more than one pundit state emphatically that companies don't create brands customers do, it's time to call balderdash.

Times have changed but brand creation has not. If companies have relegated the creation, management and nourishing of brands to consumers I'd argue they're just plain lazy.

Has the marketing world changed and will it continue to change? Absolutely.

Has marketing communication changed and will it continue to change? Absolutely.

Do consumers have more opportunity to change the course of a brand's destiny? Absolutely.

But they don't create brands. They don't nurture brands. Certainly consumers determine a brand's success but they always have done and always will do. They either bought you or they didn't. This is not new. The rate at which consumers communicate and interact with brands happens at warp speed but they don't create brands.

Let's start by agreeing on what a brand is. The best definition I've stumbled across appeared in the Harvard Business Review and was shared with me by Larry Light, a well-respected brand consultant and former McDonald's Chief Marketing Officer:

"A brand is a promise of value and delivery on that promise is critical if a company is going to differentiate itself from its competitors and stake a solid claim in its intended market. If all functions in an organization are not helping to create and nurture a single promise of value, customers will at best be confused and at worst angry."

And yes, strong successful brands make an emotional connection with its intended market, but that emotional connection is often the single promise of value.

A brand is a promise, a differentiated promise of value. If you make a promise and keep it you'll get rich. If you make a promise and break it you'll go broke. And today more than ever consumers are empowered to let you know when you break the promise.

A brand is often the most valuable non-tangible asset on a company's balance sheet. It is an asset that must be nurtured for it to flourish and prosper, a skill set that may well be dying in Canada.

As multi-national companies repatriate their North American Brand Management south of the border, fewer and fewer Canadians are being trained on the power of brands and how to grow them. It's becoming a lost art.

Discussion around the power of the brand is being replaced with discussion about the power of media. This may well explain why media planning and buying companies are becoming increasingly important in clients' agency rosters.

To some degree this is understandable. Media fragmentation is arguably the most challenging issue facing marketers, but if they lose sight of their role in creating and nurturing brands it won't really matter how they reach people because the brand will become irrelevant.

So please, let's stop the craziness. Let's stop abdicating our role as Brand Custodians and Brand Zealots to consumers.

Rather, let's continue to engage them and listen to them so we can make our brands more relevant and useful to them and more powerful for marketers.