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The Branding Buzz
By John L. Cimino

Branding has become one of the marketing and advertising industry's most ubiquitous buzzwords. Everyone likes to drop a few references to this elusive, hard-to-define technique in front of a client or prospect to appear savvy and well-informed.

Speaking of being well-informed, here's something you probably didn't know. The word, buzz, like other words such as hiss, splash and murmur, are examples of a literary technique often used by poets known as onomatopoeia, in which a word's spelling defines its sense or meaning.

Back to branding. As is the case with most buzzwords, no one has the definitive handle on a suitable definition. Everyone seems to "touch the elephant in a different place," so to speak.

As a marketing professional who confronts this semantic dilemma on a daily basis, I took it upon myself to try to reduce all the fluff and gibberish (more onomatopoeic words?) to a bare minimum — thus extracting some sort of definitive description for the art and science known as branding.

In true marketing fashion, rather than relying on my own instincts, experience and intuition, I opted for a focus group approach  — a sure-fire way to screw up the process — but a time-honored marketing and advertising tradition nonetheless.

Demonstrating a colossal, but widely practiced, misunderstanding of the complex task of market testing and evaluation, I chose to interview several advertising and marketing professionals in different areas of the country, and seek out the definition of branding, in their own words.

I began with the President of a marketing and communications company in Houston, Texas. His name was George, and his firm specialized in the oil, gas, and energy industries.

Through the modern technological miracle of video teleconferencing, I was able to have a face-to-face conversation with George on Samsung's new, state-of-the-art SPH-1300 Palm-powered cell phone. With its six inch, color LCD screen, this little hi-tech toy features wireless Internet access and a full range of downloadable audio, video, animation and 3-D graphics.

Once our communication link was securely ported to our respective handsets (George had one, too), I put the question to George immediately.

"George," I said, "what, in your opinion, does the term branding mean?"

"Hell, that's basic," George boasted. "Branding is when you take a long, poker-like rod with a circle and logo at the end of it, and heat it till it's red hot. Then you womp it (more onomatopoeia) on your cow's butt leaving a permanent mark which prevents rustling. Can't trust anyone when it comes to business."

"By the way, son," George persisted, "no offense but do you earn a living asking stupid questions?"

I pushed "end" on my SPH-1300, Palm cell-phone.

I never did like focus groups.

But George had a point.

Branding is acquisition, activation, and retention all rolled into one. Branding is a way of putting your mark on what's yours — whether you sell it, raise it, build it, or imagine it.

George's refreshing definition for this much misunderstood set of abstract maneuvers forced me to rethink my marketing strategy to arrive at a proper, classical definition for the term which could become the standard, thereby easing communication and clarity.

But then I thought why bother?

Instead, I chose to merely add my own definition of branding to George's and let you all decide.

Branding, as far as I'm concerned, is what I tell my clients I was doing on those rare occasions when my test package doesn't beat the control.

Y'all have a good day now. And happy branding.

P.S. If you're keeping score, that's Cimino Direct 3...Sacred Cows 0!

2001, Cimino Direct, Inc

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