Stop branding start participating?

February 11, 2009 at 8:17 pm 3 comments

In his coverage of Renny Gleeson of W+K, entitled “Stop branding start participating,” Rich Cherecwich quotes

“Agencies are built to make ads, not come up with marketing solutions and solve problems,” he said. “Marketing teams are built to approve ads, and publishers are trying to sell eyeballs, but what they need to sell is relevance.

and, citing social media as a way to deliver relevance:

In the search for the shared experience, brands have an incredible role to play,” Gleeson said. “They’ve always been the glue that binds. Now they have the opportunity to be the glue and part of the shared experience for the people who buy them.

How very true. Many, including us have said similar things. “The brand era is over, it’s the people era.” and “Acts, not ads!” are Leo Burnett mantras.  However, concerning the headline “stop branding”: really?

Before looking at Social Media as a solution to make brands relevant again (which it can be), I wonder why agencies and brands have had a hard time reinventing themselves.  Because I believe, regardless of what tools (such as social media) you are using, it will be a crap-shoot in terms of relevance for your brand, until brands and agencies have consummated and internalized one very basic mindset shift. It’s not so much about having to “stop branding” and “to start participating”, but it’s more like:

In the people era, it’s about doing something that makes a qualitative difference in people’s lives, not just saying something. Because delivering deeds and experiences that make a qualitative difference (however big or small), is branding for the people era.

Yet, agencies and brands haven’t adapted their business models and “creative delivery systems” to actually be doing something  instead of just messaging. And to top it off, even when they are doing something, it is usually so brand-centered, that it becomes a backfiring farce.  There are many such examples of brave attempts by brands and agencies to use “innovative” digital channels, such as social media, in the hopes that it will engage people with their brands again. The ones that happen to work, we all hear about. But there are many more attempts we don’t hear about. Why don’ t they work? Because moving to the people era doesn’t just mean picking the digital channel du jour, and applying your brand message.  Fact is, agencies and brands that have not internalized what their brand can mean in the people era, and will continue to try to use channels to force-feed their brand message. Brands are so used to being the sender of a message, that they don’t know how to let people message for them, but that’s what the ultimate consequence of the people era is. This is what Gleeson refers to when he says, “what brands need to do is grow the campaign out of an existing community, rather than simply drop it on top of a community.” 

So I agree that brands and agencies need to reinvent themselves. But it’s a shift that needs to happen, not a replacement of things.

  • Brand era SHIFTS TO People era
  • Doing things to people SHIFTS to doing things with people
  • Brand message SHIFTS to Brand experience
  • Reason to Believe SHIFTS to Reason to Interact
  • Single-minded propositions SHIFT to allowing fragmented, multi-faceted experiences 
  • Branding SHIFTS to delivering experiences that make a qualitative difference
  • Creativity in formulating messaging SHIFTS TO Creativity in designing experiences 
  • Brand Metrics SHIFTS TO People Metrics
  • Consumer Insight SHIFTS TO Behavioral Insight

So, in summary, yes, stop branding the old way but start branding with an understanding of shifting brands into the people age. Only with that in mind, social media and other digital channels, as well as the traditional channels can serve purposeful strategies that are not left up to luck to succeed.


Entry filed under: humankind. Tags: , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The week in (digital) advertising |  |  February 22, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    […] tools in this new environment just fell victim to the same old thinking. It’s far more than just switching the words ‘brands’ with ‘people’. It’s about being able to participate and lead a conversation beyond campaigning. As long as […]

  • 2. Gerald Hensel  |  February 22, 2009 at 10:03 pm


    You know, I really, really love this blog (and you too, of course ;-). But I disagree with mostly everything in this article. It’s one of these ‘ad agencies must understand’ texts, without understanding at all that we are not talking about ad agencies anymore who simply have to find a new focus (or new tools, as mentioned here). Social media is not just a new tool. We’ll be social media’s tool if we don’t reinvent ourselves. I think in a decade branding might be more relevant than ever. Simply because people need a point to focus on. And that gets more important the more options you have.

    But…the brand itself will have to reinvent itself. Ad agencies are far too irrelevant to claim something like air superiority over the ‘social thang’ at the moment. If your client produces products or a service that sucks you won’t be able to change that as a Social Media agency.
    Brands don’t just have to have a new toolset to simply do what they did for 100 years in a more fashinable way. Brands need to hold long conversations and must return people to the screens and telephones where they put machines two decades ago. And – and this is what I actually wanted to say – brands need to produce relevant shit that’s worth the money. Because we cannot do anything against customers who don’t believe in the message anymore.

    Welcome to a new social era. Man, that sucks. 😉

  • 3. Alexander Wipf  |  February 23, 2009 at 11:48 am

    I agree with every point you make. That’s why I wonder why you disagree with me. Did you read the article?


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