Just a buzzword. A fad. Blue sky. Unmeasurable. Unnecessary. Many, perhaps most, leaders of small- and middle-market businesses are quick to dismiss branding as a waste of resources … or worse. I accept the blame for this state of affairs. Well, maybe not full blame. But I am among the many professionals who write and speak publicly about branding. I’ve been called – and I shudder to utter these words – a branding expert. (I’m always mindful of Harry Truman’s definition of an expert: Someone who can’t ever be wrong because, if he ever is, then he ain’t an expert any more.) But I do write and speak about branding. And so do trademark attorneys, public relations professionals, graphic designers, ad men, inbound marketers, social media marketers, business coaches and countless others. And English being the mutable language it is, we all use the terms brand and branding in slightly different ways. What is a business person to think when even we so-called experts can’t agree on a definition of the thing we’re supposed to be experts on?
Very excited today, to be speaking to Jan Young, blockchain expert and champion. Jan has extensive expertise in digital media and has worked in Strategic Accounts and Product Management. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School, is a certified CSPO (Product Owner) and Scrum Master, and has certifications in Blockchain Business and Solutions Architecture. You can find her Blockchain Tech blog for non-coders on Medium at Blockchain2Go. Jan is a board member of The Rabbit Hole, a woman-powered blockchain community. The Rabbit Hole is conducting Beginner Blockchain Day here in Los Angeles on October 12, and Bitcoin Basics Brunch on Oct 13. She is also a co-founder of Prototopian Tech (website launching soon) which leads creative workshops on emerging technologies. Recently, I was speaking to Jan about the nature of brands, how they’re actually the shared relationship between a marketable asset and its market. We talked about how interactive technology has begun to shift the power in those relationships towards consumers – and away from the traditional gatekeepers of the brand, the owners and managers of marketable assets. You can see the trend in everything from the way consumers can now demand that businesses take a stand on social issues, to the impact of Yelp reviewers, even to how fan fiction influences some entertainment brands. It seemed to me, given its emphasis on decentralization, blockchain has the potential to really accelerate that shift. So, I asked Jan about it.
There’s an old adage that goes, “Nobody buys a drill because they need a drill. People buy a drill because they need a hole.” Similarly, when you ask somebody what they do for a living, they almost always describe their occupation in terms of what it is they sell. They describe their “drill” whether it’s financial advice, patio furniture, fine wines, or some other product. But, when you look at who’s buying these products, you find they have real reasons for buying that have nothing to do with the sellers’ products. All business people are egocentric in this sense (and I mean it in the most positive way). We do what we do because that’s what we will. We go to the beach because we want to go to the beach. We go to the movies because that’s what we want to do. We start a business because we think it would be a good idea. But that egocentric approach to business can also put us at a disadvantage. We’re not seeing our brand from our market’s point of view. So here’s a two-step challenge for business people. First step, describe your business in terms of the “drill” you’re selling. Piece of cake, right? You’re probably doing it every time someone at a party asks you “So, Charlie, what do you do?” Second step, describe your business in terms of the “hole” your clients or customers are buying. For most managers, this will not be so easy.
These days every business wants to be known as innovative. Every company wants a reputation for outside-the-box creative thinking. Everybody wants to be the disruptor and not among the disrupted. Trouble is, very few businesses ever really attain that status. Most managers have no idea how to inject innovation into their teams. They can’t imagine how they can ask to see more creativity out of their employees. Fortunately, last year, Accenture completed a study that revealed the answer: Equality. They found that when businesses that had a brand culture of inclusiveness and fair treatment of everyone, employees felt more empowered to strive for innovative solutions.
There’s so much confusion these days about what’s called the purpose-driven brand. Regular readers of Brandtalk know I’ve complained in the past about how people muddy the waters by assigning different meanings to “brand purpose”. It’s frustrating because many in the business community are already skeptical about branding. Some still think of it as touchy-feely, unmeasurable hogwash. It’s often dismissed as just another buzzword. And part of the reason these misconceptions are so hard to dispel is those of us in the branding community are already confusing people by using different jargon to mean different things. Business people are to be forgiven their skepticism when two different branding “experts” address the same branding problem sounding nothing like each other. We come off as kooks. Now we’re muddying the waters further by each having our own definition of brand purpose. I’d like to propose we, the branding community, attempt to clear this up by standardizing our terminology. I suggest we adopt “brand purpose” to mean the purpose to which a market puts a brand. I propose “social purpose” as the way a brand makes its customers’ lives better. Finally, let’s go with “cause marketing” as the leverage of social issues for commercial purposes. If we could adopt those terms, or some just like them, we’d finally be able to stop talking past each other. And our clients would find clarity.
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