Short answer: No, it’s not a bunch of horseshit, but a business’ brand is 100% up to them and their employees. A brand cannot be magically constructed in a lab by an advertising or branding agency.
Long Answer: “Brand” is one of the most confusing terms within the marketing and advertising realm. While confusing, it brings out some of the most passionate opinions amongst business owners, marketing and advertising people, and the general public.
Depending on who you ask, “brand” is a total crock of horseshit, or it’s something that should be thought about and monitored every second of every day.
The brand of one’s business or product is totally made up in the minds of customers, clients, and the general public. Whatever they think is the brand of that business or product. (Note: That is how we define brand at OEPMA. Ask 20 different “marketing” people, and you’re going to get 20 different answers. We can only write articles on how we see things.)
Branding, marketing, and advertising agencies can only provide assets such as logos, packaging, wordmarks, slogans, color palettes, website design, and so on to help reinforce what type of image the business would like for people to think about their company or product.
Let’s put this into a real-world example of two plumbing businesses starting up simultaneously in the same town.
One has a beautiful and appealing logo designed by the best branding agency, a new fleet of trucks with attractive, well-designed wraps. They invested in a luxurious website as well. We’ll call this company A1 Plumbing Service.
The other has a couple of older F-150’s with the company’s name and phone number and website stenciled on the side with different color spray paint. Yes, they have a website, but it looks like it’s from 2000, but it does work. We’ll call this one Rag Tag Plumbing.
Just off those two descriptions, it’s natural to think that A1 Plumbing has their stuff together. People perceive in their minds that they do better work and charge more for their services.
A few years go by, and these two companies service their town to the best of their ability.
A1 Plumbing gets the reputation of being grossly over-priced, lazy, and takes forever to get back to people who call them or contact them online. When they do get to the job, it’s 50/50 if they even complete it correctly. The people who call their number get greeted with someone answering the phone saying, “Hello!?!” like they don’t even want to be there. Not good. Due to this conglomerate of factors, they don’t have the funds to keep up their fleet, and it’s obvious they are on the downfall.
Rag Tag Plumbing gets the opposite reputation as a quick responding, reputable company. They price jobs fairly and are very welcoming in any communication. They go the extra mile to make sure every customer is satisfied. If a customer has a complaint, they try their best to fix it and are very fair. As you may have guessed, their revenues improve, and the owner can purchase a better fleet of trucks. They are growing, and it shows.
One might think after all of this, Rag Tag Plumbing would get themselves a sexy new logo to “improve the brand,” but they don’t. They spray paint their name, phone number, and website on their brand new F-250s just like they did their old F-150s.
Because over the years, they have built a brand with that look, so they’re going to keep it. It means something in the mind of their customers. A new flashy logo would mean a change in business, which might trigger a difference in the public’s thought process about them. Why mess that up when it’s going so well?
This example doesn’t mean business owners shouldn’t think about their brand elements such as logos, websites, etc. They should.
This example illustrates that shaping a brand in the mind of customers and the general public is more about the quality of their core competency and communication than their logo, wordmark, or truck wraps.
Agencies can’t turn the wrench, quote jobs, or answer the phones for companies. The agency can only provide elements that help reinforce what a business owner wants people to think about them.
Now in the example above, A1 Plumbing’s agency-designed identity most likely got them some calls off appearances alone, but they couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain. As time went by, the town unmasked them. Those brand elements went from being slick and garnering calls off looks alone to a symbol of inefficient, overpriced service to the townspeople.
What if a third plumbing business started in that town simultaneously with A1 Plumbing’s dedication to outward appearances and brand elements and Rag Tag’s dedication to the craft and communication? Think about that.
In conclusion, a company’s brand is not horseshit at all. It’s 100% real.