Do Brands Still Matter In Our Digital Age?

[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse. Find the original post, here.] PROLOGUE: During the past few years, much has been discussed regarding the relevance of brands in a digital age. Do brands still perform? Are they still needed? Does anyone still care? Much of this discussion has been negative toward brands, often driven by cost-conscious consumers who question […]

[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse. Find the original post, here.]


PROLOGUE: During the past few years, much has been discussed regarding the relevance of brands in a digital age. Do brands still perform? Are they still needed? Does anyone still care? Much of this discussion has been negative toward brands, often driven by cost-conscious consumers who question value (rightly so) and digital marketers looking to sell the next great technology. But today, as we move beyond the stripped-down, survival thinking of The Great Recession and as marketing technology becomes more functional and integrated, the idea of Brand — and its role in the marketing context — is making a dramatic come back. Unfortunately, through the backlash of the past few years, many in marketing have forgotten, disavowed, (or never learned) what a true Brand can be — and what it can really do. As organizations look for new ways to improve financial, social and cultural value, brand development (for those who understand it) is proving to be a tremendous asset. Is your organization fully leveraging the power of its brand?

What is a Brand, Really?

A brand is more than a logo. More than a tagline. More than the sum total of all the marketing and communications efforts your organization develops. A true brand holds tangible and intangible qualities that create value and influence how an organization functions and, how it is known, internally and externally.

For the past 15 years or so, marketing directors, CFOs, CEOs, ad agencies, design firms and others have shifted from talking about brands in the abstract to branding in the specific. Branding was put into the hands of those who only saw (or perhaps only understood) its tactical manifestations: colors, logos, taglines, ads, websites, etc. The more this happened, the more these surface items became a proxy for the brand itself. The terms ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ came to be used interchangeably. As this took place, ‘branding’ became synonymous with fluff. And rightly so. Problem is, this artificial concept of branding never had anything to do with what a true brand is in the first place.” -From The Idea

Simply: A brand is a shortcut path to all of the emotional and logical benefits (perceived and real) that an entity possesses. The very best brands also carry a ‘relevant difference’: they are not only ‘known,’ they are ‘wanted’ because they carry something (tangible or intangible) that shines apart from similar offerings.

In practice, the value of a brand takes a number of forms. From a marketing and consumer perspective, it is the promise and delivery of an experience. At an organizational staff level, it is culture and mission. From a business perspective, it is the security of future earnings. From a legal perspective, it represents an intellectual property asset.

Why Invest In A Brand?

If you have developed a business that is successful competing on price and operational efficiency, alone, you will undoubtedly question the need to invest time and resources in brand development. If however, you find yourself in a competitive landscape of parity players, each attempting to compete on similar features and benefits, developing and/or re-developing your brand can be the difference between struggling (and eventually failing) and succeeding.

The benefits of brand:

  • BRANDS CREATE VALUE. People pay more for brands and want to work (and be associated) more with brands.
  • BRANDS CREATE MOMENTUM. Once a brand is established, every sales, marketing and communications effort begins with a perception and an expectation, giving each effort more initial energy, because it doesn’t start from scratch.
  • BRANDS CREATE WEALTH. Strong brands are simply worth more financially than their competitors.
  • BRANDS CREATE CULTURE & COMMUNITY. True brands attract like-minded employees, customers and stakeholders. People…who propel growth through purchase and advocacy.
  • BRANDS CREATE GOODWILL. Brands that stay on purpose and stand for something of relevant value build a nest egg of goodwill over time.

Why A Brand In Today’s Environment?

While technology continues to drive new efficiencies and new tools for sales and marketing functions, it has also given rise to a pervasive best-practices mentality: A point-of-view that is effective in operations, finance and even sales and marketing process development, but one that is counter-productive to the brand positioning and development process. Solid strategy — especially marketing and brand strategy — is about making a choice. A choice about what you are, who you are and why you are. At the exclusion of the things you are NOT. A process that works to find and leverage a ‘relevant difference.’

In a recent presentation entitled, “The Brand Is Back: Why Brands Matter in the Digital Age,” McKinsey & Company makes the case that strong brands increasingly outperform the financial markets index. And while ‘brand relevance’ took a dive during the recession, it is now back to ‘pre-crisis’ levels in the categories of products, services and retail.

The Opportunity.

Today, unfortunately, many companies settle for marketing that was developed from a ‘cut and paste’ mentality: an incremental, inclusive approach that offends no one and blends with every other competitor and message. An approach that is incompatible with the quest for difference.

But in this trend rests tremendous opportunity for the company that has the conviction to position a strong and differentiated brand and brand message. Because every competitor sounds increasingly similar, the company that invests the time to find, refine and articulate its own, unique brand simply has a better chance to stand out and succeed.

But Our Brand Is Fine.

Investing in a strong brand is one of the single most important efforts that an enterprise can undertake to ensure continued relevance and growth in a rapidly changing market. Unfortunately, many companies have become so concentrated on developing efforts that promote ‘the next sale,’ that they have neglected investing in the foundation of their brand direction.

Without a brand umbrella to help rationalize margins, instill customer loyalty, bolster employee morale and drive awareness, every sale becomes a little more difficult and disproportionately more expensive. Strong brands require proper feeding, care and maintenance, and sometimes, restructuring, redevelopment and rebuilding.

Do You Face A Brand Development Challenge?

Whether developing a corporate brand for your entire organization, relaunching a product or service brand, or packaging an issue, the first step needs to be an analysis of assets and perceptions. At Cohesion, we utilize a detailed and proven method that is always customized to the unique organizational, political and situational needs of our client.

Perhaps your organization faces a brand challenge, or has the need to develop, or re-develop a brand strategy, platform or message? If so, I know a brand agency that can help.

Brand is trending. Is yours?

Brian Creath is the president and strategy director of Cohesion, a nationally recognized St. Louis-based brand agency. He has helped hundreds of businesses and brands achieve success in a 30-year career. To learn more, email him at

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