Martin Adams

Is this the era of unbranding?

Forget conscious uncoupling, today it’s all about actively unbranding.

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Frustrated with trying to create awareness in today’s attention economy, organisations are turning instead to losing their brand altogether. Or at least that’s what they want us to think.

A recent study by Havas Media found that of the top 500 brands in the world, 74% of those brands were found to be meaningless. When this is combined with other research claiming that only 7% of people in Western Europe think brands are open and honest, and 69% of people don’t trust advertising, and it’s easy to see why the unbranding backlash is occurring.

It’s not just that we’ve all become deaf to advertisers messages among the cacophony of branding noise, it’s that there is simply a complete lack of trust between people and brands. VW fixing emissions reports, supermarkets using horse meat and claiming it as beef and Facebook giving away our data and disregarding our privacy – the brand disaster list is endless. And each time it happens it chips away at the relationship between brands and audiences. People have become desensitized; the message has become lost and unreachable, hence the rise of the unbranded brigade.

Beauty Pie is one such organisation. It offers the same ingredients in its makeup and face creams as the biggest producers, but without the ‘branding tax’ inflating the cost by almost double. Brandless recently launched in the US and sells household products to consumers at low cost in plain packing just detailing the product, ingredients and what it does. No branding, no message, low consumer cost.

But is this brandless society the future for organisations? Probably not. People like branding; it helps them to make decisions, helps them form habits and helps them to be part of a tribe, no matter what that tribe is buying. But it does make a point; most brands are failing to make a connection with their audience in any meaningful manner, and in order to survive they need this to change.

While content has been deemed the saviour of branding because it engages an audience and creates a bond that can translate into sales, this has yet to materialise for many organisations. The problem is that despite some great content being produced, brands refuse to let go of the ubiquitous practice of buying reach and frequency. Despite a lack of demand, brands are pumping consumers with content and feeling the losses.

While there is no silver bullet, some successful organisations have found solace in building up a connection with a small audience at first. It’s not about the quantity of views, followers or click throughs, it’s about the quality and how many of those people actually engage with your brand. It’s better to have 50 click throughs that convert to sales, than 500 who don’t. Micro-influencers on Instagram and Twitter are finding themselves in demand as brands realise they’re more real, more ‘human’ than the multi-million followed super influencers. And therein lies part of the answer; brands need to humanise.

In the digital age it’s easy to forget the value of telling your brand story through a human lens. But this is the most effective way to become authentic and genuine – two of the most important words in marketing. And it’s a task which, when attempted through programmatic marketing (aka buying reach and frequency), fails miserably because it requires an emotional or human connection.

Instead of unbranding, which is of course itself a form of branding, organisations should look to focus on using social media, advertising and most importantly their content, to build trust with their audience in an authentic and genuine way. What’s your story? What does your product actually help people to do? Does it give them back time? Does it help them achieve something? What can it help them to think, feel or do?

Think of the brand disasters in the past year - most of them were about brands not being honest and transparent about something. It doesn’t matter whether it’s meat, data or emissions, being honest with your customers and therefore in your content, is the only way to build trust. And in the fight to win some time in our attention economy, it’s the trustworthy brands that will be heard.

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