Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A Boycott Is For Life Not Just For January.

When Mark Earls invited me to join his admirable campaign to make January "b-word"-free, I had to turn him down – not because I don’t believe in resolutions, but because I try never to use that word.

It refers to nothing more and nothing less than reputation, reputation you earn by your behaviour or, more realistically, reputation which other people (customers or not) confer on you because of that. It’s not something you impose on others.

If you ask people about those reputations, I’m convinced that largely you’ll get a media-literate response (one you increasingly see in focus groups) that reflects their impression of what the advertising has sought to portray. But that is not necessarily a reflection of what the b***** truly is, unless of course you’re asking about a business that doesn’t advertise. And isn't it interesting how often it is those b***** that are lauded by the experts?

If your differentiation is your advertising (rather than your advertising reflecting your differentiation), then you have a big problem. Moroever, using the b word leads to dubious concepts like b***** values, laughable b***** extensions and, worst of all, branding.

As I’ve written before, it should never have been a verb. It reeks of superficiality, a stamp you put on something to assert its provenance, rather than its indisputable DNA.

So Mark is on the right track, as ever, but I’ll sign up only if he agrees to make this a permanent thing – because this is not a short-term issue, but a long-term failing. When you think in terms of branding you’re explicitly focusing internally on your business, your product and/or your service. But you’re in real danger of not focusing on your customers.

(photo courtesy of


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A permanent removal of the word 'brand' - that's a big ask. 'Branding', perhaps, but 'brand' - really Dodds?

4:01 PM, January 09, 2009  
Blogger john dodds said...

Yes Angus, really - if it's valid for a month, it's valid for good. I think it would focus everyone's minds as to what they are actualy trying to achieve and expose a load of charlatans. But please disagree at length.

4:59 PM, January 09, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you propose I use instead when talking to a client about a brand of theirs as opposed to a product within that range?

What do you propose country folk who use branding irons for their cattle talk about in the general store?

Not using it for a month is a fun challenge for those who deem such things fun, and I can see the value in it.

Certainly we need to be realists about both the definition of 'brand' and its limitations, and the limitations of focusing on it too much.

Thinking "in terms of branding" might be the wrong strategy but surely it doesn't mean the word doesn't exist??

I have big issues with the overuse and misuse of the word brand Doddsy but I suspect removing it is going a little far. It's very "Web 2.0" of you...

12:31 PM, January 10, 2009  
Blogger john dodds said...

The rancher is free to continue using a brand, but let’s consider what the purpose of that brand is. It’s a short-term, skin-deep identifier that enables him and his neighbour to know which livestock belongs to each of them. It marks it as his cow, it doesn’t make it purple. Any “purpleness” is inherent (or not) in the cow - regardless of the brand.

You ask how you talk to a client about a particular range of products? Why not just be literal and talk about them in terms of those products/services that collectively address a specific set of customer needs? The term brand is after all just shorthand for that and shorthand is only useful when you want to record quickly and unthinkingly (albeit for later consideration). It is that later, deeper consideration that we need to focus upon if we are to get long-term results. If one avoids the shorthand, one constantly reminds oneself of the raison d’etre.

When I see ads that waste a couple of seconds of their precious screen-time by announcing that it’s a J&J or a Unilever or a whatever product, I just see corporate vanity. The assumption is that simply because I use products that they happen to make in order to meet a need in a certain area of my life, then I will automatically trust them to serve different needs in a different area of my life. I fear that brand-based thinking all to often gets close to that.

The important thing is for the products/services to do what they’re meant to do and be enhanced by the essence of the producing company – an essence that stems from behaviours and ancillary services and not from promotion that over-promises. Brand is an abstraction and we should all be dealing in the real world because customers are not (and should not be treated as) abstractions.

P.S My opinion on this predates Web 2.0 (as does the original print version of my passive branding piece). Web 2.0 has changed little in this respect – it’s just amplified certain elements of the argument, most specifically the increased dissemination of information and the swifter debunking of dishonest promotion.

P.P.S Not sure this all hangs together, but would love to know what you and others think.

4:38 PM, January 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're missing the point Dodds.

The point of this debate wasn't for you to have another chance to lecture on how you feel we should behave in your utopia moving forward Doddsy. The debate was about whether or not the word should exist.

And as you ironically keep saying in your lengthy explanations - what we need to focus on needs to change, not the existence of the word in the dictionary.

And if the rancher is free to continue using the word then I guess you have inadvertently reneged. Thanking you.

PS. "Branding" might have become "advertising and promotion" in your mind but that doesn't mean it has in others'...

PPS. I can't believe you wrote "raison d’etre"

8:38 PM, January 11, 2009  
Blogger john dodds said...

1) No the debate was not about its existence but whether business people (other than ranchers) should use it and thereby generate a lot of bad thinking. Neither I not Mark ever mentioned the dictionary

2) Nowhere did I define branding in the way you suggest. I was just giving one example. Product, price, place and promoition (or whatever model you choose) all provide pointers from which individuals form their impression of the offering.

3) I can't believe you picked up on my pretension. No that's a lie.

2:41 AM, January 12, 2009  
Blogger john dodds said...

If you don't use the word brand, you acknowledge that your product/service means different things to different people due both to their context and their worldview. It also means that you focus on them rather than an internally-generated construct.

That's very different from the current world but I hope and believe it's not utopian.

3:11 AM, January 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Easy now, chaps.

Think the point behind my original post is that the Bword is flabby and "fat": it can mean what anyone wants it mean.

Or, rather, it's never quite clear what an individual means by it but none of us stop to say what is being meant by it and whether the listener and the speaker mean the same thing. Neither of these things is helpful.

But there's also a set of bigger points about the b-idea: it reifies things in a very unhelpful way that makes the thing seem really important and monumental which easily (and too often) distracts marketing folk from doing the hard yards needed. And - because it's essentially the aggregation of the results of past actions, it anchors marketing thinking in the past.

Frankly - as the marketing shelves of the bookshops show - it's become a scam-word: the tool of snake-oil salesmen and emblematic to the broader world of all that's wrong with this thing called Marketing.

Why don't you join us, Angus, in avoiding the word for the rest of January? See what it's like not to use the word and then tell me I'm wrong...

7:25 AM, January 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark, I trust you realise that Doddsy and I are good friends and love a little banter...

I'm more than happy to decrease use of the word brand and, as I've said ALL ALONG, I heartily agree regarding its mis-use and incorrect definition by many people. But as I queried in my first comment, I felt Doddsy's call to remove the word permanently a little silly. Focusing on brands less is one thing. Doesn't mean there isn't a role for them or the word.

Doddsy, people who use the word brand should ALWAYS understand that a brand means different things to different people depending on the context. Surely that's 101 and if someone doesn't get that then surely the action point is to remove those people from the industry...

Gosh this is fun.

2:11 PM, January 12, 2009  
Blogger john dodds said...

Now who's being utopian Angus? You'd end up with a damn small industry and never have any time off and you know how you hate that.

2:31 PM, January 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Phew, this silly debate is over. Back to my Penthouse Black Label.

3:10 PM, January 12, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

And just for a moment I was going to pitch in with my ill-formed views, but John is on a roll here so best left alone. As Willard says in Apocalpse Now - 'Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were goin' all the way.' Erm and I'm not.

I was also thinking of anonymously tipping up here and leaving the b-word on its own in capitals like a burglar leaves a turd in your loo. But decided against that too.

So hopefully one day I shall post something worthwhile John on a different subject but in the meantime I too shall be avoiding the b-word.

See ya round


3:46 AM, January 13, 2009  
Blogger john dodds said...

Bring it on Mark and anyone else. Angus may have found the kitchen too hot but the debate is not over. Is it?

2:23 PM, January 13, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, STEAMING hot.

(Stop debating and start doing Doddsy...)

3:38 PM, January 13, 2009  
Blogger john dodds said...

Well said Angus.

4:59 PM, January 13, 2009  
Blogger Eaon Pritchard said...

@holy cow the Willard quote is great. could be a title for a blog..
(its mine btw)

@angus i agree 'brand means different things to different people depending on the context'.

this conversation is way to clever.
Doddsy please do a book. you are our Seth.

12:43 AM, January 16, 2009  
Blogger Willem said...

Wow, that's some pretty impressive commenting/debating out here!

I wouldn't have believed you could be so passionate about the word bitch...

I Agree with @eaon, John you should write a book - dunno if it should be about b-words though.

And definitely following a couple of opinions about the meaning of the words, or words in general for that matter - it can mean a lot of different things at the same time for different people.

Just like any jargon language specific to a profession/industry/hobby/etc, we use words as shortcuts to avoid thinking about what we want to say exactly, and it also (sometimes conveniently) excludes people that aren't privy to the language and makes the person using the jargon look (hopefully) smart and superior.

The thing is the more people use a word a a shortcut out of laziness/convenience (I don't know about you, but I'm lazy to think - most people are, really), the more it loses its meaning or power.

From that point, it probably has more impact to think about other ways to express what you want to say than using a common buzzword - bitch in this case, of course.

I guess that's my take on the conversation going on.

The other great thing at that point is to look at the dictionary:

brand (plural brands)

1. A branding iron.
2. A mark of ownership made by burning, e.g. on cattle.
3. (advertising) A name, symbol, logo, or other item used to distinguish a product or manufacturer from its competitors.
4. A product or manufacturer so distinguished.

'Some brands of breakfast cereal have more sugar than is really healthy.'

5. (advertising) A product's attributes — name, appearance, reputation, and so on — taken collectively and abstractly.

'The company still has to do more to build the bitch.'

[edit] Derived terms

* bitch awareness
* bitch image
* bitch linkage
* bitch name
* bitch values
* bitch stretch
* bitching
* bitching moment
* own bitch

PS: Hope that all makes kind of sense...

PPS: Loved Raison d'etre - I didn't know it was used in English. Going all ontological on us! ;o)

2:16 AM, January 16, 2009  

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