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RIP “brand messaging”

This is a cool section from an article on why the best brands focus on users instead of buyers:

Purchase brands worry about what they say to customers; usage brands worry about what customers say to each other. For example, where traditional hotels put more emphasis on the content in their advertising, Airbnb puts a greater emphasis on the content generated and shared by hosts and guests about their experiences.

This is important to think about.

Let’s do the caveats upfront

The sample size on this study (described within the article) isn’t huge. And clearly, as you can see above, the authors are porn-level obsessed with ideas like “disruption” and pitting young, flashy brands against more established brands.

In a way, that’s where the world is heading. In another way, though, all the talk of “disruption” usually kind of misses the mark.

But still…

What does marketing really do all day?

This is an age-old question. A lot of marketers take their shit extremely seriously — and ironically are usually not even doing what they’re supposed to do.

A lot of marketing revolves around “the brand.” It’s this big, breathless thing. Everyone must be “on brand” at all times. We need the right messaging out in the universe. There needs to be “branding strategies.” Someone hire us a “brand consultant.”

The thing is, most of this is bullshit. You’d probably get a higher ROI from marketing if they stopped talking about branding, in reality.

Why?

For all the discussion about “branding,” most marketers don’t even know what it means.

What they think: moving/adjusting logos and colors; tweaking words.

What it really is: how the people that pay you think/feel about what you do and its quality.

This is why that quote above is so relevant.

Branding/messaging are what you’re pushing out.

User stories and discussions are what’s actually happening. 

The latter means much more (much, much more) to the overall success of your organization.

The former is just a bunch of buzzword vomit on a glossy page.

It’s time to kill off “messaging” as a concept

Admittedly many in marketing would have no idea what to call meetings about anymore, but this really needs to go away.

What you should focus on is trying to build some semblance of a community around what you do — online, in-person, on Facebook, whatever.

Of course, this becomes a problem because most CFO-types would think of “community manager” as a $40K job you give to someone right out of college. “Is that some social media thing?”

A “branding manager” is a $105K job in a lot of those guys’ eyes.

But the community manager is probably twice as important in terms of where business is headed.

They’d just never get paid that way.

But messaging is just curated internal wording and imagery. It’s not how the users/customers feel. It’s how six or seven employees feel/weigh in.

A final idea

In almost every industry, one of the top 2/3 channels for sales is “speaking to peers/colleagues.”

That’s where the real stuff happens. This is why trade shows are still so popular, even in a digitally-driven world.

People want context and conversations. That’s how they shape their decisions.

Those conversations about customers/clients/users are what matters.

Your branding/messaging doesn’t matter nearly as much.

We need to start thinking this way and we might have more functional experiences and staffing considerations too.

Thoughts?

Ted Bauer

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