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Brand this, brand that! Are we all headless chickens running about in the name of branding?

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Are you focused on what your business or agency thinks its brand is or, are you focused on what your customers say about your brand?

When I was a kid at primary school we played a game called brandings. Like all kids playing, we spent a lot of time squabbling about the rules.

There were few rules. One of us had a tennis ball and the idea was that you threw the ball hard at another player to brand them. Head shots were out. Any other part of the body was fair game to be hit – bare skin was the choice shot and leaving a bruise was the objective.

The skill of the thrower was careful selection of the target, the body part, and a great throw – hard and accurate. Parts of the playground were deemed safe, and the person throwing the tennis ball had to throw it from a reasonable distance.

Without the ball, your objective was not to be hit. You could dart and weave, scurry from one safe place to another, hide behind others – and hope that the one you hid behind was not setting you up under cover of a secret deal with the thrower. You also had to choose to be part of the game, and it was in your own best interests to stay out of the way if you chose not to play.

So much of what is called branding today seems to have not moved beyond the playground game of brandings. Companies and government agencies seem intent on hitting us, leaving a mark. It’s getting harder to avoid being branded, to scurry about in the vain hope that it’s hard to hit a moving target. And there are so many more brands. A Google search on “branding” yields 155,000,000 entries in 0.22 seconds.

Employers are encouraged to have a brand. Employees are exhorted to develop their personal brand. Brands want to become personalities and personalities want to become brands. Everything is a brand. It’s getting ridiculous when mission statements include “we want to be the brand of choice”. Seriously? You never wanted to be “the brand no-one chooses”? Where’s a tennis ball when you need one?

One way to lift the proper business obsession with brand out of the childhood game may be to take a lead from a saying attributed to Peter Drucker – “communication is what the listener does”.
Rather than focus exclusively on what your business or agency thinks its brand is – focus instead – or at least as well – on what your customers say about your brand.

And, while you’re at it – stay away from the ubiquitous “customer satisfaction” survey. Why not try and focus on how what you do makes your customers more successful in what they do?

The starting point for this is to find out more about what your customers do, to find out more about the challenges they face, the problems they would like to overcome, to find out where they want to excel. Listen to your customers, rather than talk at them – are you up for it?

Joe Moore is a founder at Kimber Moore & Associates. We work with you to discover how things are done, why they are done that way; and what is and isn’t working. Through a shared understanding of what works, we can make things better.

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