Get Real: Your Brand Isn't The Issue

Have you ever heard the phrase “We have a branding issue”?

I have.

Here’s my hunch: it probably isn’t a branding issue. Most company and personal branding issues at their core are issues with their product or partner relations.

(That statement is probably causing some furious marketing guy or gal who specializes in branding to write a long retort. Maybe I should clarify?)

Okay, so there is an instance where branding is an issue: You’ve got a great product but nobody knows about it. Even then though, it really is more of a PR or advertising issue than a branding issue.

Let’s Fix The Product And Relationships, Not The Brand

Take Monster.com. They are well known to both consumers and business owners. At times, their product is bashed as expensive, ineffective and losing relevancy. Yet what is the solution that many analysts (and Monster themselves) have recommended over the years? Rebrand, rebrand, rebrand.

It doesn’t work. Look at Monster through the years (historical images courtesy of archive.org):

Click through to each one of those sites and it screams at you to SEARCH FOR A JOB. For ten FREAKING years, that’s been the message. So what exactly is there to rebrand? Monster.com has a branding problem only if SEARCH FOR A JOB isn’t the primary purpose of the site. I suspect that Monster.com thinks that searching for a job is still incredibly important. Just a hunch.

Certainly part of the brand is reputation. So if Monster.com has a branding problem because of reputation, it is probably due to either a product issue or a bunch of busted up relationships with important people. That doesn’t mean you spend a couple mil on rebranding your product with a slick logo, front page redesign and an ad in the NY Times, you spend a couple mil on fixing your product and repairing those relationships. The brand improvement will ultimately follow those two actions.

Monster may be figuring this out. They put Eric Winegardner out in their community of business partners. They may have figured out that fixing the brand means fixing the core issues that will help improve both their brand and profitability.

Personal Branding Mission: You Are Who You Are

Some say Generation Y may not be getting jobs because they aren’t properly marketing themselves. They turn to personal branding to boost their profiles. Sites like Brazen Careerist actively encourage their Gen Y members to post to their “idea” stream. Since millennials don’t have much experience, they have to compensate by creating a stream of ideas that may or may not impress the ruling class of Boomers and Gen Xers.

Here’s what I know: it is a stretch to build a personal brand on ideas. Again, the brand isn’t the problem here. The problem is that there is little experience to backup those ideas. And great ideas don’t come without context and understanding. And context and understanding doesn’t just come from thin air.

Instead of worrying about personal branding, how about worrying about doing things that create both experience and ideas? If you ever get to the point where you have to worry about how you are going to position all of these great experiences, then you can talk about branding. I don’t want to read another blog by a so called “web design expert” that has been freelancing for three months and their entire portfolio fits above the fold on my browser. Whoever is telling people that assuming the role of an expert is good for their personal brand when they are not an expert is just giving really terrible advice.

We Cling To Brand Because It Is Easy

It is easy to blame a brand. It is easier to rebrand. It doesn’t take any responsibility for a broken business process (or your own experiences). It simply says “No, we’re not the problem. Other people’s perceptions of us are the real problem here.” And then you make your can smile and do other superficial actions and it makes us think that image is the only problem to address. That’s like changing a lamp shade when a light bulb goes out. The image of that lamp shade is projected from the source and you’ve done nothing to change that source. Nobody cares about a pretty lamp shade without a light behind it.