The 3rd Era of Branding

Over the past 40 years we have seen, and experienced, an evolution in the concept of branding for a business or individual. Back in 1970’s and 1980’s “branding” was essentially image engineering. That is, making sure that corporate logo’s were consistently used in all advertising channels. A catchy slogan was also critical to these efforts. Who can forget Clara Peller yelling, “where’s the beef?” The company told us what they thought we needed to know, and did so in a predictable way. The marketing channel really only went one way: from company to consumer.

Over the next two decades we saw the large companies begin to slowly change their “brand” emphasis to emotional utility, the “essential truth” of a company or organization. Companies began to talk with their customers. Focus group questions were designed to mine preference data, not just reaction to product usage or effectiveness. Instead of focusing on product specifications or how the product is used, they began to tell us stories that were directed to these subconscious preferences. While the marketing channel still went from company to consumer, there was a greater interest in understanding what we as consumers might actually want.

In the last ten years, as the Internet has become a primary source of information for a majority of consumers, “branding” has taken on a new meaning. This “3rd Era of Branding” is characterized by how people experience the brands around them. A Brand today is interactive, three-dimensional, almost alive.

In the past, Brand was communicated through a small set of powerful, one way channels to consumers who had limited access to information. No longer. Today’s consumer is armed with a variety of technologies and numerous sources sharing the perspectives of other customers. Product and company information is no longer controlled and disseminated by the company—it’s available to everyone.

This information overload is not necessarily a good thing for the consumer. These increasingly connected technologies and ways to interact with brands can be overwhelming or empowering, or both.

What does this mean for business owners? Two branding trends are emerging: get simple, and personalize the customer experience. OK, how do you do that?

In my business, when training a new marketing distributor, I teach them what we call the “eight year old” test. That is, to learn and explain the essence of our business using words that an eight year old can readily understand, and be able to complete your presentation within the time of the attention span of the average eight year old. That’s simple.

Too often we want to tell far more than a prospective customer wants or needs to know. Stay simple.

Personalizing the customer experience means two things. First, recognizing that each person we speak with is unique and has their own agenda for talking with us. A successful sales presentation is far more interactive in this model. Gone are the days of the canned speech that is given to all prospects. The presentation that works for a couple in their mid-50’s looking ahead to retirement should not be the same approach that you use with a young father concerned about creating a college fund for his three year old.

Second, let the customer interact with your product using as many of their senses as possible. As they experience what you offer in this more visceral way, the opportunity for them to become customers, and perhaps even raving fans, increases. People on your team should be aware of these trends and modify their approach to accommodate the unique needs and wants of the prospect.

As we become fully immersed in this 3rd era of branding, the successful business person will focus on simplifying their message and encouraging interaction with their product through multiple touch points.