Protecting their bollocks

It fascinates me the amount of effort that goes into maintaining brands. Organizations fabricate these shiny images of themselves and then fight fiercely to protect them. They spend loads of money polishing their shiny façades and even turn the myths inwards on their staff.

But it’s bollocks and we all know it. These fabricated brand images fool no one. We all know, even my kids know, that reality bears no relation to the shiny image. Our impressions of companies and their products are formed day to day in our experiences and our conversations.

So why is it so hard to have real people talking with real customers about real products or services? What are brands so scared of?

22 thoughts on “Protecting their bollocks

  1. It is a common mistake to think that you are the representative demographic. Most people are heavily dependent on brands and brand loyalty is a significant factor in consumer purchasing.Look at any TV purchase, most consumers don't shop for the best product by value, they either take a brand inside their budget or the cheapest crap on the shelf. A brand like Bush or Grundig can exist long beyond its original company has ceased trading. Brands are now bought and sold by supermarkets in order to sell their bought in product designs, yet consumers keep buying.It is very difficult to build a brand just via hard work alone, competition from advertising supported brands takes sales from better products without support

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  2. It's the illusion of control. If you accept that you don't have any control over the perception of 'the brand', then you realise that in many cases, you also don't have control of the things which are actually important – the staff, the products themselves etc.(There is also the fact that in terms of 'the brand' assets etc, not protecting them can become a legal issue in some circumstances, obviously)

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  3. If I ever become a representative demographic it'll be a sad day.I think these fake conversations about brands are really an echo of the fake conversations around hierarchy that are basically endemic to organisations. The fiction of the capable leader is maintained on the surface, and all the shadow feelings have to be vented someplace else.

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  4. To clarify my statement further:The company I work for has been slowly building a consumer electronics brand in the worldwide for about the past 20 years. The nature of our leadership (founded & run by engineers with little respect for marketing) means that they don't want to spend money on advertising unless it gets them a direct return on investment. This has actually worked, but in the mean time we've seen a tortoise & hare scenario with the competition. We slowly plod along, building a trust with our consumers based on genuine product development efforts, sometimes we make mistakes but we always try to maintain a good relationship with customers. In the mean time we see upstart companies pile in, steal market share for less than a year but then die away. I even see the same people surface time & again in these different companies.The TV analogy is interesting because no one actually makes any money making TVs, the cost of making a TV is still relatively high but price competition is such that it is impossible to profit. The brands we all know and love are loosing money hand over fist trying to stay in the TV game. Yet, as was explained to me once before, half of selling TVs is so that consumer has your brand in their face for ~4.5hours a day (on average). A big name Japanese CE company is willing to loose tens of millions every year just to keep that position in the eyes of the consumer.

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  5. Because I've never bought into the shiny image of the BBC as some grand bastion of objectivity and public service. But of course they don't have to worry much about "customers," as their funding comes under threat of state violence.

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  6. Goodness knows where that came from Jackie. It is six years since I left the BBC and I have very little connection with it, or interest in it, these days.

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  7. Marketing works and makes coca-cola the "best" drink in the world. Are you arguing that marketing is unethical and a distortion and that the person with the most cash shouldn't be able to buy the best image and generate the most experiences and conversations?

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  8. I'm not sure that brands can have bollocks (to protect) or even be bollocks but they certainly know how to talk bollocks.But it's what they do that counts, not what they say.My guess is the fear of authenticity comes from the obsession with share price and the reputation of the senior executive.But as a member of the Apple fandom Euan, surely you appreciate the power of branding?

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  9. I'd agree about how Apple protects their brand but you said it yourself – it was what they do that counts not what they say. Yes they create an upmarket impression through their branding but this is as much about their (his) passion for design and even their packaging is a delight. I am passionate about their products because they work not because they tell me they work.

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  10. Euan, I apologize that I wasn't more clear – my comments weren't an attack on you. But obviously your experience with Auntie is a unique aspect of your background. Personally, I think it's high time brands realized that reputation isn't something you can give yourself; it's bestowed upon you by other people. Tell me "I'm very clever" and I know something's wrong. The people behind many brands still don't get this. Show, don't tell.

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  11. I think it is changing – though really, really slowly. Twitter based customer service, if run smoothly, by people experienced in social media, can actually work. I think @BTCare are a great example. Talking to that team feels good and actually works! They take the responsibility for faults in the rest of the system and do their best to address issues and make the customer understood. I just wonder how their presence will change other, similar brands. @VodaphoneUK also has their Twitter team, but not as responsive as BT. So I am speculating that BT has a better team leader/strategist or other head or maybe just freedom to act as they wish?

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  12. The fact that many brands fail to deliver what they promise Euan isn't new.As a single unifying thought however around what a collective organised set of activities is setting out to do, they're simply a collective identity and I think they're very important. There's no use throwing out the baby with the bathwater in conversations like this. There is a need to think about collective identities now just as much as ever for the purposes of sense-making, to make the most the huge collective energies on offer, to provide people totems around which they can identify and feel they belong. Yes, the 'b' word's a dirty one; yes it's been besmirched by hollow profiteers and yes, brands must resonate some sort of truth or they're morally broke. In this age of increasing transparency where there's a need for more blatant integrity, that bankruptcy may well extend to their finances too as people call them out, I hope so. Let's not do some sort of crazy revolutionary zealot-driven destructive thinking around a basic need to congregate and develop collective identities because some bad apples have been busy ruining it for the rest of us. There is an opportunity for people to talk about 'real stuff', and that can still happen. It's the practices of 'talking bollocks' (as you've quite rightly put it) that are poor I think, not the basic concept of a brand being a shorthand that sits behind them.

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  13. Some of Apple's product experience is as good as they say it is. Some isn't. But brand and reputation goes further than the customer experience for product and services, it's about the reputation and relationship with other stakeholders:- suppliers, employees, local communities, investors, business partners etc. Most of that is positive in Apple's case but, again, not all. As a Samsung/Android user, you can probably guess where I am coming from.But, recognising that brand is the major contribution to an organisation's intangible assets, it helps differentiate and grow market capitalisation, it doesn't surprise me that the 'show' will almost always lag the 'tell'. I believe the most successful brands in the future will be those that close that gap, not just by what they show and tell but, more importantly, how they do it.

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  14. Ann – I guess I was asking for the "Let's not do some sort of crazy revolutionary zealot-driven destructive thinking" by using strong language in my title. I still think that the idea of a brand as something with an identity other than the experience of service or products and our reaction to them is manipulative.

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  15. more blatant integrity Interesting way to put three words together.Is there a continuum of integrity? I guess more blatant must mainly mean "more visible" and perhaps "more consistently demonstrated" ? I think I am of the mind that there is either integrity (and yes, it is real work to maintain that constant) or there isn't … even some slight lapses tarnish. And, I am going to think some more on this

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  16. I think you've nailed it – it's the effort, and the bollocks. It was one of the old advertising guys, maybe Ted Bates, who said "I'll run a campaign for ten years, and you can change yours every year, and I'll win." Because brands have really simple messages; they're mass produced goods that are the same every time. I know what Coca-Cola tastes like, and it's worth paying more money than buying another brand. But the Coke advertising tries to get me interested in "friendship" and "life". Total bollocks; waste of time. What's that commercial where the woman gives the product to her child, and the child smiles? You know the one? No, me neither. Brands aren't about identity or morality or promises. Pity the poor bastards who have to live that dream. The point of a brand is to remind you that you had a good experience once, and encourage you to have it again. By buying the box with their name on.

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