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the risk of false brand identity

2016.01.31

A colleague from the CMC posted some thoughts on brand based on one of Seth Godin's periodic utterances. It elicited quite a few responses in me, so I wrote what turned into a lengthy response that I thought I'd record here (safely away from being read).

No, Godin's lost the thread, here. A brand is the impression that you make with others, and it comes about from all the interactions we have with the brand. So; the fashion houses with their ever-more-dominant logos on their product leave one impression, but the equally creeping reduction in quality, the tales of unpaid labor locked in death-trap factories, the mountains of unsold goods that are destroyed, and of course the environmental destruction from growing all that cotton—all part of a brand.

Apple has a lock on "brand" in the traditional sense of products and service, but then there's their attitude towards paying their taxes: a decidedly mixed message that tells me that Apple's priority isn't their consumer.

Our provincial and federal governments, too: been to a service Ontario branch recently? The last time I went, I gave myself an hour to get my drivers license and health card renewed, and it took ten minutes despite their being a substantial line. Almost everything else you can renew with simple forms; even the CRA has made filing a business tax return easy. They're publishing sunshine lists for transparency, and in keeping defined benefit pensions are treating their personnel with more respect than private industry. To me, these are all parts of the least interesting "brand" I can think of, one that I don't think Godin would ever cross Godin's mind.

As far as "what's in it for me", I don't think that adequately describes my interaction with brands. I do business with Canadian suppliers whenever I possible can, and I don't do business with firms that are gutting our workforce by shipping jobs oversees. I could go on, but you get the point, I'm taking a broader view on "me".

There are happy surprises. I use a mobile provider called Primus wireless that's a rebranding of a cheap subsidiary line from Rogers. The technology is the same, but the "brand" is a total mess; they don't advertise, and I get correspondence from both Primus and the Rogers subsidiary, which is Cityfone (I think). And yet their customer service is the best I've experienced with any Canadian wireless provider. I literally can't tell who "makes" it but I'm very pleased with them.

Another example is Anker, who make USB charging devices. I bought their product online and didn't even notice the manufacturer's name. But the technology is excellent, and the packaging was a revelation: no plastic waste to linger for centuries; clear instructions on how to get support or a refund; "frustration free" design and recycled paper. I've been showing people that packaging!

Frankly, I've found that Godin's gotten a bit wobbly in the past few years. His early work was insightful and clearly consistent. I've seen a shift from someone who put a lot of thought into his work to someone who's decided that we should all just listen to his utterances.

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