Branding It Ain't

I had heard it from one sales rep too many. The ads didn’t link properly – someone in traffic on the publisher’s side had mistyped the URL and our ads, for a period of several days, were clicking into an error page. Both the sales rep and I were upset that we failed to pick up on the error for so long, but what really ticked me off was when the rep said something to the effect of, “At least you got the branding.”

It’s the anal retentive side of me that gets upset whenever I see people operating in this industry who don’t understand the underlying concept behind a brand.

Not many people get to see my anal retentive side. I think the last time Tom the Anal Retentive Media Planner was allowed out in public, he got into an argument on one of the discussion lists about “mediums” not being a legitimate English word. In any case, Anal Tom was briefly let out of his cage to straighten this sales rep out with regard to branding.

Branding is not this nebulous concept that somehow explains low click rates. Your brand is what your company, product or service stands for. Does your brain conjure up images of family fun when someone mentions Disney? It’s because that’s what the Disney brand stands for.

By way of another example, people think of luxury when they hear the word “Cadillac” because Cadillac has invested time, money and hard work into associating their brand with the concept of luxury. They build luxury automobiles. They sponsor events like golf tournaments. They spend truckloads of moolah on branding campaigns to make Cadillac virtually synonymous with the concept of luxury.

Branding is the creation of an association in the minds of your audience. Thus, I think almost anyone can forgive me for getting a little uptight about a sales rep describing my improperly-linked banners as “good for branding.”

In actuality, those banners provided what we media nerds refer to as a “negative brand experience” for anyone who might have clicked on them. Instead of showing these potential customers that we’re serious about our business by delivering them to where they wanted to go, we sent them into the web equivalent of a black hole. Bad for business, bad for the brand.

This isn’t to say that the occasional technical goof will permanently destroy a dot com brand. One brand that handles its mistakes very well is In several US markets, Kozmo allows you to order movies, CDs, video games, snacks and whatever else your little heart desires from its web site. Kozmo delivery folks bring everything to your door in about an hour. Kozmo has been undergoing major upgrades to its back end systems to accommodate increased demand, and occasionally you’ll get an error message when you try to log on to their web site.

Speaking from the consumer’s perspective, the upgrades haven’t been too inconvenient. The one time that I really wanted to order a DVD and couldn’t, Kozmo awarded me the equivalent of 10 bucks or so in Kozmo points for my trouble. You really can’t complain about that. On Monday, I received a letter from Kozmo’s general manager in New York, who apologized for the technical glitch. My favorite part of the letter?

“We at believe that impeccable service is the key to your satisfaction and to our success, and we are always working toward this goal. We also believe that when these service levels are not met, you have the right to know why.”

This letter is a refreshing example of branding a small dot com company with quality service. The letter effectively communicates that Kozmo is committed to quality service and that the service interruptions experienced recently are atypical and not representative of what the company stands for. For me, that letter did more to enhance Kozmo’s brand than any of its outdoor or cable ads.

In sum, branding is a concept that is often misunderstood. And it shouldn’t be – brands can take years to build and develop, and they are a vital component of communicating your message to your customers.

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