Branding in the Age of Digital Media

Is Traditional Branding a Thing of the Past?

I recently read an article by Brian Millar on Fastco Design about Why Branding Is An Artifact Of The Past. In the article he was basically making the case that traditional branding no longer makes sense, nor is it effective, in today’s digital age. He gave examples of companies like Google and General Motors and Apple to try and make his argument and the argument primarily hinged on a few key assumptions that I’ll paraphrase.


Key Assumptions

  1. Consumers won’t value things because we tell them they should.
  2. Brand Marketing research and Brand Equity models are flawed.
  3. Social and other Digital Media make it easier for consumers to have a voice about your brand.

Branding Scrabble


What Is Branding?

To put it simply, he is dead wrong and is misguided by a very narrow and inaccurate understanding of branding. This is exactly the kind of thing that used to drive me crazy when I dealt with agencies and the primary reason I founded one. Branding isn’t outward communication that you use to fool consumers into believing your brand is what they want. Branding is actually putting in the effort to find out what they want and then living up to it. Brand Communication is just the process of letting them know.


Good Branding is Pervasive and Eternal

The problem with most “agencies” and “marketing consultants” is that they’ve never had to actually live with the brand, day in and day out, over an extended period of time. Walk a few miles, or years, with your consumers and you gain a much more expansive understanding of the nature of good branding. Good branding is actually living and breathing the principles of your brand from sourcing to manufacturing to pricing to advertising to customer service to everything else. Branding isn’t who you say you are. It’s who you actually are.


You Never Could Fool Consumers for Long

The idea that Digital and Social Media means you can’t fool consumers anymore is a fallacy. You never could fool them for very long and that shouldn’t be the goal. Good brands always knew this and bad brands found it out through their eventual failures. The Brand Communication process has always been more complex than just a monologue from Brand to Consumer. Consumers have always been talking to one another. Digital Media just provides the means for it to happen faster and wider and for the Brand to have more visibility of it than ever before.


Branding is More Important Than Ever

That’s right! I’m arguing the exact opposite of Mr. Millar. In the age of Digital Media, the variety, volume and speed of consumer interaction makes good branding more important than ever before. There are now many more ways to communicate and fewer ways to hide your mistakes. This makes it essential to have your entire organization aligned behind a consistent branding proposition. I’ve lived on both the company side and the agency side and the one universal truth I’ve learned is this. Branding fails at the company level, for a few common reasons, when you break your branding pact with your consumers. The backlash in reduced sales and media backlash is just them telling you they know what you did.

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Article written by John Howard

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John is the founder and President of Frontera Marketing Group. A graduate of the University of Iowa, John had more than 20 years of professional experience in Sales and Marketing prior to founding FMG. His corporate background included a number of companies, industries and roles including National Account Manager, Product Manager, Brand Manager, Director of Trade Marketing, Director of Marketing and Vice-President of Marketing.

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One Comment


  1. Larry Triplett

    Right on target! The most effective marketing uses every channel available, and social media didn’t re-invent the process, it just made it easier to have conversations with customers. Promotional products, print media, TV, direct mail and social media all work hand-in-hand. And while promotional products are best used as part of a campaign where results can be tracked, they continue to be used as a major component of simple brand awareness/identity programs. Google, General Motors, and Apple, far from switching their efforts to social media, continue to use all of these things to build their brands.

    August 29th, 2012 at 9:02 am Reply

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