Brands are cool, it’s branding that sucks

What are brands good for? The most recent incarnation of this question comes from the startup world. In the event they are successful (and 3 out of 4 are not), startups excell in their products. But what about the story, or the narrative, around these products? That’s where startups fall short, at least according tothe popular opinion.

And then, there’s this. Most people around the world would not care if “more than 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow,” saysHavas Media study. In Europe and the US, the figure is even higher, at 92%. Only 20% of brands worldwide make “a significant, positive effect on people’s well-being.”

So which one is it going to be? If startups invest their brainpower and money in building a brand around their products, will they reach a point where they get to struggle to remain meaningful?

This scenario is not every likely. The very core of being meaningful is baked in the startups’ core. Their products either add value/make people’s lives better or simply disappear from the public view. Design economy made sure of it. A startup brand is a simple answer to the question of how this company help people lead easier, more fulfilled, more sustainable lives. It’s the “how” that is a startup’s purpose and a reason to exist in the world.

The 20th century brands lack this “how.” Driven by science and tech innovation, and not by design, they had to invent their “how.” They then poured marketing, communications and PR into making their invention believable. But, offering an actual,tangible proof that goes beyond accumulating profits is proven to be increasingly difficult (see above). If the meaning isn’t already the core of a brand, people will see through it.

But. The real challenge here is not one of the brand, actually. It’s the challenge of branding. Our branding manuals are out of date. Marketing, communication and PR are not the most productive way to tell the story about our products, to convey the purpose of our company, or to provide rational of what we bring to the world. Just look at what Uber is doing. Look what AirBnB is doing. Look at Net-a-Porter. Look at Amazon.

Brands are useful, no doubt. They provide focus, differentiation, and a filter for everything that comes out of a company, be it a product or a social media update.

It’s just that branding sucks.