The need for a new model of branding

Recently I came across data showing the decline of broadcast viewership vs. the growth of cable viewership.  The chart clearly showed that the good old days of 3 major networks is over.  Companies are adopting completely different media strategies, not only moving to cable but also to digital media.

Most senior marketers grew up in a different world where share of spending was highly correlated to share of market.  By highly correlated, I do mean in the statistical sense.  [When I was at Backer Spielvogel Bates, the media group could show a very strong correlation, over 80%, between spending levels and market share.  All things being equal, the biggest gains often went to the companies with deep pockets.  Media models were built on the assumption that the variations due to creative execution were generally minimal over time.]

The creative vehicle was thirty seconds long.  Sometimes there were executions as long as 60 seconds at the beginning of a campaign.

The message of a brand had to be distilled.  A whole new marketing science grew up around that distillation.

The branding model that dominated was brand positioning.  The age of brand positioning was declared the age where brand strategy was more important than creative brilliance.  In fact, Trout and Reis declared that the age of creativity was over and it was being replaced by the age of strategy.  That was the model that today’s generation of senior marketers grew up knowing.  It was the model that they associated with success early in their careers.

And today Brand Positioning is the model that still dominates.  Our research shows that the large majority of marketers are using Brand Positioning as their most common branding approach.

Yet that brand positioning model no longer fits the facts and available data.  The relationship between media spending and share of market has been broken.  Significant brands have grown through many different kinds of branding models.  Google is outspent by Yahoo, by Microsoft, by AOL.  Yet Google has grown while the others have shrunk.  Is the Google product really all that much better than the others at this point in time?  The difference is not noticeable by the average internet user.  In fact, Microsoft is putting out data to show that Bing is more relevant in search results.  Big spending, a demonstrable point of difference and yet little traction in the marketplace.

Strategy is not more important than Creativity.

A single point of difference, repeated in all media, is like showing a 30 second commercial over and over again at the length of a feature film.

The brand positioning model is broken.  Media strategies have been reinvented. The models for successful branding need to be reinvented, too.

A model built for a world of 3 networks no longer fits the reality of our world today.  The distillation appropriate for a 30 second commercial is simply not effective in a rich media online site where people can spend as much or as little time as they desire.  It doesn’t work for creating a 3 minute YouTube.

The new brand models are based on the principles of storytelling.  A story can be as long or as compressed as necessary.  A story can be told in many episodes.  A story unfolds over time.  A story can have sub-plots to reach many different messages.  A story has enough breathing room that it can engage in long media.

The Age of Brand Positioning is over.  The Age of Narrative has begun.

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