Why Johnny Can’t Brand: “Action is Branding”

“Too many folks think “branding” is what airlines do when they repaint the planes every few years, or what banks do when they refresh all the signage in their lobbies and reengineer their logos,” write Bill Schley and Carl Nichols, Jr. (partners at david, inc., an international brand consulting firm), in Chapter Two of “Why Johnny Can’t Brand: Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Big Idea.”

“In the airlines’ case, they spend millions to update the image on the tails of their airplanes,” add Schley and Nichols. “Then they arrive late, stick you in a cramped seat with your knees bumping the food tray, charge you $1,000 more than the guy sitting next to you because you committed the crime of not including a Saturday night stay, and lose your %$##@%!!! luggage! The experience, value impression, and relative position in the passenger’s mind remain exactly the same.”

The authors continue…

Friends, this is not branding in our terms. This is paint on the surface of branding. Branding is about finding a specific IDEA that you stand for, finding a way to own that idea in a credible way, and ultimately building total trust that you will always deliver. It’s about your walk – well before your talk. You make physical, material adjustments to your product, service, and market conduct as necessary to align with that idea. Then you tell the world. And then, if you want to repaint the planes, be out guest.

Even in the world of theater, what actors say is less important than what they do. That’s why any director will tell you, “Action is character.” In our world, action is branding.

They can say that again. All too often during the course of my career I’ve been on the creative end of some mighty powerful branding campaign, only to have the client not live up to its end of the bargain. Like actors – heck, like people in general – ultimately, a client’s actions speak louder than words (and, in this case, pictures, too).

Branding is a shared responsibility between agency and client. All the award-winning copy and design in the world — and, yes, even a fresh coat of paint — can’t save a product or service that fails to meet expectations.

In this new day and age, when advertisers and marketers are being forced to relinquish control to a much savvier consumer, you have to keep it real. You can’t say one thing and do another. You can’t say you’re better at doing this-and-that unless you really are the cat’s meow. If you can’t say what you mean and mean what you say, you’ll do more harm than good in the mind of the marketplace.

To learn more about “Why Johnny Can’t Brand: Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Big Idea” by Bill Schley and Carl Nichols, Jr., and to purchase the book, click here.


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