It's Time for Brands to Arise

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

World stock markets are crumbling. Financial institutions are writing-off losses in the billions. Workers are in fear of losing their jobs. Home-owners are scared of looming mortgage payments. The dismal holiday sales and ongoing economic uncertainty suggest that nobody is feeling too comfortable with spending money. And the mid-term outlook doesn’t look any better.

Sounds like a great time for brands to arise.

Better branded products and services should be more attractive to consumers than lesser competitors, right? People should be willing to pay more for them, too. There should be value to all of that value associated with brands, and consumer preference and purchase behavior should help great brands weather the economic storm.

Why else would any company pay to engage with consumers? We need to be able to count on the power of branding when the chips are down. Activate all of those emotional needs. Meaningful associations. Nth dimensions of connections between consumers and the icons, images, themes, and other communications constructs that cost companies…I mean, companies invest in…to the tune of billions every year.

In fact, now is the time, when it’s a dog-eat-dog competition for every sale, that the best branding should show its true colors, and trump lesser or also-rans. Let’s talk about companies that are calling those chits. Companies relying on branding now that the going has gotten tough…

…it’s time for brands to arise…

…only it doesn’t work that way.

Turns out that what matters during tough economic times isn’t brand, it’s price.

For those consumers who dare to overcome their reasonable resistance to spending anything at all, they spend as little as possible. It’s not a perfect equation, and the only purchasing inclination that any two people share is that they’ll do it in divergent, not-always-sensible ways. But generally, people get stingy. So good brands suffer pretty much just as stinky ones do.

We see pricing matter most when Wal-Mart reports better sales than most all of its competitors. Or when automakers can’t move metal without lots of promotional givebacks. Ditto for apparel retailers. 

After price, the other quality that matters to consumers is functionality.

Something has to do something that somebody needs done. Associate with celebrities, humor, or some astral projection of nirvana, but if a product or service doesn’t scream utility or necessity, it’s in for a long, tough slog. 

Again, of course there are exceptions, but it seems to me that price and function become the most important brand attributes in times of economic uncertainty.

And I think price and function add up to relevance.

So how do the latest social media campaign conversations deliver relevance? Do marketers try to making branding creative relevant, or use branding to communicate relevance? Capturing consumer attention, or wasting their time (however entertainingly) is not synonymous with communicating relevance. Not even close. 

I may be a dim bulb, but tough times demand tough expectations of brands. And, if branding won’t help you sell better, easier, faster, or more often..right now, when you need it most…maybe it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing?

It’s time for brands to arise.

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