Like most people, I look forward to summer with great anticipation. But amidst the sunny skies and good times there is one thing I dread: BBQ chitchat. I am no wallflower, I just know inevitably it will circle to the question I fear most, “So, what do you do?"

Stuttering, I produce the blandest description, jolting the conversation to a halt. I start with the simple truth, “Branding.” Which generally is met with a blank stare, so I go a little deeper, “I mean, Brand Consulting.” The raised eyebrow forces me to admit defeat: “… uh… marketing?” People politely nod at my conversation killer, turn to my fiancé, and squeal, “Tell me more about being a pilot!”

What I do is challenging, creative and, frankly, really cool. My inability to meaningfully describe it is shameful because I consider myself an expert at helping others succinctly express what they do. Although I’ll take some blame, ultimately I look to the entire branding industry as playing a large role. 

The industry has grown and become more recognized, and it’s also become simultaneously diluted and confusing. “Branding” clearly needs to take a dose of it’s own medicine and rebrand itself.

Telltale Warning Signs

Branding is suffering from the basic ills it is attempting to combat:

·        Unclear positioning,

·        Hazy value proposition,

·        Messaging inconsistency,

·        And, the root of it all: navel-gazing

It’s no wonder books such as Retail Anarchy are railing against marketing and branding as an evil scheme to rip off consumers. People don’t understand Branding. And what they don’t understand they can’t fully access to create streamlined, efficient businesses.

Misunderstood Value

As The Delve Group preaches, when branding is done correctly it’s a sales accelerator. But that doesn’t mean getting volume sales in the short term – it’s about efficiently connecting with the right consumers for you and making long-term buyers of them. 

Brand is also an operations accelerator, helping build a strategy to guide core business decisions such as: hiring, vendor choice, partnerships, and which potential liquidation or exit strategies make the most sense. Your brand strategy IS your business strategy. And Branding needs to revamp it’s own.

Missing Foundational Pieces

Below is a start of what the profession of Branding needs to clear up:

1) Basic Positioning

Most people don’t understand the continuum from branding to marketing to sales. Branding needs to clarify where it stands among alternatives. We need to clearly define audiences, the tasks Branding encompasses, and why it is different from seemingly similar choices.

2) Value Proposition

Branding is often referred to as the how and not the what. It’s described as a name, an identity, a logo, key messages – the tools express a brand. Rarely do I hear people take it to the next step and describe the tangible results and benefits a company derives from having a clear and consistent brand.

3) Brand Architecture

Many entities claim they do “branding” and we need to agree exactly what that means in each context. Strategy consulting, branding agencies, public relations, designers, advertising firms and others all play a role, but it doesn’t make sense to use a blanket term equally. We need to break down the field and put each piece in its place so companies in need can better access the talent they need.

4) Audience Appropriate Messaging

Even with all of the above in place, it means nothing if Branding isn’t understood by target audiences. How many times have you heard the definition of brand as “a promise you make” or “the sum of all touch points that serve to develop a set of expectations”? Huh? When people responsible for Branding go off into academic left field and speak in terms that only have meaning for insiders, it leaves our most important audience (clients) to define what Branding means for themselves. That can lead to trouble when their “set of expectations” are not met.

Regaining Deserved Respect

When all of the above come together, we’ll have the tools we need to develop the perfect elevator pitch response for the BBQ chitchat question. More people will understand Branding’s context, complexity, value, and substantial impact.

I long for the day I hear someone say, “Oh, a pilot. That’s nice… So, Ellen, tell me more about what YOU do!” 

Ellen Sluder, Director of Business Development at Fleet Aviation