Magazine article Marketing

Alan Mitchell on Branding: Look Behind the Message

Magazine article Marketing

Alan Mitchell on Branding: Look Behind the Message

Article excerpt

Nestle's rude awakening to the reality of social media shows marketers must adjust their thinking.

It's been a bad 10 days for Nestle. It started with a Greenpeace campaign over palm oil production and the destruction of the rainforests.

The usual pressure group gimmickry - a reworked Kit Kat logo saying 'Killer' instead of 'Kit Kat' - inevitably found its way on to Nestle's Facebook page, whereupon all hell was let loose: the minder responsible for the page got shirty and decided to remove the offending logo.

Big mistake. It wasn't long before Nestle was issuing an apology both for 'rudeness' and for the deletions. 'As you can see, we're learning,' it said. The question is, what are the real lessons?

Well, for a start, it's instructive to see one of the world's most powerful organisations grovelling like this, even if it's not as rare a spectacle as it used to be. It says a lot about how our communication environment is changing. But behind the drama lie some even bigger questions about Nestle's underlying assumptions. They're not that out of order. In fact, they're pretty common.

What they seem to boil down to is this: branding is about messaging. If you believe this, two things follow.

First, it's necessary to keep everything 'on message', which means you have to be in control. As the Nestle minder declared: 'It's our page. We set the rules. It was ever thus.'

Actually, it was never thus. The peculiar workings of top-down mass media, in which the branding-is-messaging ideology grew up, made it appear thus, but that's only because the few bits where the brand was in control were highly visible, while the broad areas where the brand had no control remained invisible.

As the Cluetrain Manifesto - a collection of published theses that examine the impact of the internet - pointed out many years ago, markets are conversations and brands are just one part of them. The belief, or hope, that brands are the conversation, or can or should control it, was always vain.

The second thing about messaging is that its overriding concern is the effect it has on other people. It doesn't matter what realities lie behind the message, as long as it has its intended effect.

This is one of the ways companies and brands emptied themselves of meaning. Sure, in human conversation people joke and gossip, but ultimately they want to talk about the realities.

'Messaging' is phoney - and boring. In conversation, people earn respect when they demonstrate they know what they are talking about, and earn trust when they have the courage of their convictions. …

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