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Is "Brand" Dead In The Age of Tech?

I love technology, so don't get me wrong! But I do have a question.

I was a co-founder in a SaaS, location based mobile marketing platform that started in 2012. We started in the hospitality industry and then diversified into the condo market. A SaaS based, mobile app platform free to hoteliers and travelers, and then monetized by selling advertising to local businesses around these hotels that wanted to attract the hundreds of thousands of travelers that would go to that hotel, in their neighbourhood, every year.


But the other night I was wondering, as a brand and advertising expert: in the land of technology, is the horsepower of "brand" losing a little steam?

So allow me to explore this thought, because to some extent, I'm trying to understand what might be one of the causes of the demise of the Chief Marketing Officer function in so many companies this year. You can read about the 9 most recent CMO departures here:


IMO, evolution in any society, sector or industry is usually good for those same three buckets. Citizens benefit, industries innovate and grow their products so their top-line and efficiencies grow, they employ people and they deliver profit. Inefficient business models are shaken up and some are disrupted with new, better, players. And some businesses that don't think about this stuff die off. The horses are returned to the farms as the eco-unfriendly cars are dispersed throughout the cities.

Secondly, and sadly, I think Chief Marketing Officers are also in the cross-hairs. I think we've all read that CEOs are looking at these CMOs with the expectation that they can do more with less. And by the way, do way more, not originally included in your remit e.g. Customer Experience (CX), data, attribution, analytics, MarTech, and go figure out that A.I. thing, and add a few Chatbots while you are at it, etc.

So How Does One Begin To Assess This Situation?

As a strategist and perpetual student of business, I think we need to look at this at several levels.

Overused Example

Was Apple a brand or a product first?. I think Steve Jobs was so smart he knew, as a marketing guy, he had to have a brand to distance Apple from the other guys. I've read the book and seen the movie, but I'm not sure he saw the pending diversification of Apple. If he did, he's more brilliant than previously purported in documentaries and books. This ability to stand for something overarching the product was prescient at the time in the new field of personal computers.

Brand Architecture

So lets give hime some credit and assume he saw a diversified company in his future. Is that why he chose an advertising messaging strategy that could halo many products, that had nothing to do with functions & features, across many diversified sectors, industries, and product areas but championed a "Purpose"; a rallying cry I support? Perhaps! So a brand and a product strategy.

Current Day

So now, for example, in my space, we have 7,000 MarTech offerings, from about 6,999 companies. Clients eyes are spinning and resembling Marty Feldman (forgive the old reference, but you get the point). But clients are having a tough time figuring this out. What are the strategies of these 7,000 players? How do they differentiate, Do they have a brand? Is their brand robust and understood, is it consistent? Does it matter?

Or if you are at Pepsi, Kraft, P&G, Kelloggs, RBC, TD or pick a brand, what are your brand strategies these days? For some these days, this is no longer about brand, but business model, organization structure and management of the ecosystem partners.

For example, all banks execute against several strategies, including bringing start-ups into the eco-system into their new cool, garage, greenhouse, pick a term. Is the end brand strategy, brand architecture clear at the outset, or do they respond depending on the output? Or are they just evolving? Neither is wrong.

So even if you look at my homebase of marketing communications, with as Scott Brinkner says, over 7,000 new MarTech companies, how do they differentiate, what makes them standout to the myriad of agencies and clients in-housing that they are selling to?

Here's a link to Scott's site. Always worth following and reviewing:

Preliminary Conclusion

Branding takes many forms: It includes logo, icon, colour, signature visual, shape, typography, tagline, taste nomenclature, pattern, sound, and aroma. All tools to help shorthand a bundle of attributes and benefits so your customer quickly understands you and sees the value.

But at the end of the day, there are smart people out there that recognize the above, perpetually reviewing the momentum and dynamics of their category (and if they are smart, the emergent players), they plan for tomorrow, not today.

The successful companies don't stop there. They are customer obsessed, they talk to these existing customers and prospects on a regular basis, and they don't always restrict themselves to the usual focus group methodologies. Years ago, we used to interview beer drinkers, crazy thought, in a bar. So this is not a one-time shot. It is like Agile Marketing - an ongoing process of listening, probing, stimulating, testing and optimizing. IMO.

I guess my preliminary hypothesis is brand has been losing steam, but in the age of tech, it shouldn't be. I think the magic is to stay customer obsessed. All the "bells and whistles" and shiny new objects like of TikTok, Weibo, QQ, Instagram are a channel but also a brand, but not necessarily with a clear brand strategy. Technology has just enabled the brand-wise to keep their fans closer than ever. And you can use all the above tools and others to drive this relationship - a precious company asset. And for CMOs, that's what you own, a unique, occasionally personal, but certainly, in the best sense of the world, a precious company asset no other department owns.

Please weigh in! I want to know if I'm on the right track.

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