The way, the simple way I’ve always understood the purpose of a brand is this: a brand is an organizing principle. Whether we’re talking about a bar of soap, a political candidate, a technology, or an automobile, there are usually a confusing array of choices, too many in fact.
A brand overlays on top of product attributes a set of values that allows your mind to quickly categorize things that would otherwise be hard to classify. In other words, a brand should make things easy to understand and differentiate.
You don’t have to understand the braking systems in a Mercedes. Their brand promises to be the best. So without knowing all the ins-and-outs of antilock technologies, you can still be somewhat sure by buying a Benz, you’re making a wise decision.
That’s what I mean about a brand simplifying things for a viewer. Unless you’re Trumpian in your outlook, you can trust the Harvard Business Review or The New York Times or the New Yorker to hire qualified writers and fact-check their output. That’s one of the key promises of their brands.
Today, brands seem to be producing more and more content and to my eyes much of that content wavers wildly in quality. Commercials, for instance, and the most prominent web pages seem to be relatively keen and cogent. But that same brand is likely to produce so much content that some, because it reaches a small and specialized target it often appears that it is done cheaply and without much of the rigor that more broad-based content is subject to.
What I wonder is blunt and likely to be controversial.
I wonder if modern content strategies—the idea that a brand can provide content at literally hundreds of touch points for audiences that might number in the teens—is essentially off brand. I wonder if the modern content marketer, under pressure to be at the right place at the right time with inexpensively-produced content, is in fact, off-brand.
I’m talking about things that are badly written, badly produced, badly conceived, badly shot that are somehow acceptable because they fill a niche need. I hear these excuses for what I regard as substandard creative all the time.
I don’t accept them.
A brand, I think, is about control. Control of a promise. Control of a voice. Control of an image. It is not meant to be all things to all people at all times. It is meant to transcend the transitory and stand for something beyond time. I’m not 100% sure that modern content marketing gets this.
I’m not sure that modern content marketing is on-brand.