August 26, 2004
News & Opinion: FusionBranding: Comprehensive View of Customer Economy
Seth Godin recently said good business books fall into two categories: how-to's and inspirational (via Thinking by Peter Davidson). I tend to do much of my business reading in a third category: "pushing the edges." And any book that takes on an established marketing 'bible' is definitely pushing the edges.
When June Cleaver wore pearls while serving dinner to Beaver and the family, "positioning" could work. Consumers had limited access to information and companies could generally control how offerings were portrayed within limited media..."Positioning" ignores a basic principle of communications theory. Communication does not occur just because the speaker (or company) speaks. It occurs only when the message is heard, and ideally, accepted....["P]ositioning is out of step with the requirements of the customer and demand economies. The interlinked imperatives of these eras are relationships, execution and the ability to do business on customer terms. It definitely is not, in Ries and Trout's words, "what you do to the mind of the prospect." A more powerful perspective is to enable prospects - and customers - to shape your thinking. The problems with "positioning" does not mean that offerings should not be differentiated. Differentiation means creating or adding values that meet the specialized requirements of target markets. - FusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand For the Future by Nick WredenFusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand by Nick Wreden is a tough book to classify. At first glance, it appears to look like one of those 'written by committee' consulting firm exercises. It's not. It's a comprehensive book clearly written by one author that attempts to look at branding and marketing from a holistic organizational point of view. Most marketing books are focused on one specific aspect and rarely encompass the breadth of operations, technology, partners/channels and measurement and accountablity systems that are crucial to successful marketing efforts. The more I read FusionBranding the more I felt that it really should be the textbook that college students read today (and maybe get that mass market unilateral message thinking out of their head). In fact, this would be the perfect book to hand an intern, a new college hire, or an engineer transitioning to the marketing department in order to give them a full perspective on all the touchpoints of marketing within a B2C or B2B mid- to larger-sized company.
[T]he environment that facilitated past branding successes is dead. Unfortunately, old habits die hard. Companies are still attempting to brand with past strategies, even though the world where those strategies worked no longer exists...."Positioning" and the "4 Ps" got imprinted on the genes of an entire generation of marketers, but it's time to bury the concept and come to terms with the reality of a new branding era.And it's not just new marketers that could do with a conversational-marketing, systems-based, results-oriented approach to marketing. Most readers here are well aware that the world has shifted from a mass market towards a customer-centric economy. In 'pushing the edges' style author Wreden boldly predicts that in the future we'll move further into a demand economy where pricing is fluid (think eBay) and offerings are entirely personalized and customized. While I'm not so sure of his future prediction, he is right on target with marketing today.
What does branding on customer terms mean? Companies no longer sell. Customers buy. It's a critical distinction....The loss of power and control in the buyer-seller relationship is difficult for some companies to accept...Habits formed by years of sending unidirectional, one-size-fits-all messages to faceless, powerless customers must end. Ultimately, customer economy branding is all about viewing consumers as candidates for relationships, not markets for products.Wrenden also quotes ex-IBM CEO Louis Gerstner on the IBM turnaround: "We're going to build this company from the customer back, not from the company out." And that right there sums up the entire philosophy that drives this book. Even the chapter on advertising is titled: Marketing in an Opt-In World. Although released in 2002, the book still feels freshly appropriate for today as Wrenden wrote it with the Internet firmly in mind. Albeit a small mention, that it mentions blogs at all is a testament to its forward-thinking author. Just the chapter on PR alone justified my time investment - it crisply describes what I do but have struggled to explain to clients. Now with Wrenden's book I know that it's called "constituency management" and it naturally includes a market and competitive intelligence component. Impatient marketers (I sighed when I realized that the book was nearly twice my 200-page limit) may use the book more like a reference after you've read the first few overview chapters. I tend to be attracted to a quite different sort of business book (i.e. Re-Imagine is more my style) but FusionBranding has a definite place in the marketers' arsenal.