Brands: Case Closed

Brand Aid
By Brad VanAuken
306pp. New York: AMACOM. $24.95
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Perhaps the best measure of the value marketers place on branding is the torrential flood of books and papers that are written on the subject each year. It is nearly impossible to pick up a marketing magazine or browse the marketing section of a bookstore without seeing brand books galore. The brand industry is alive and well.

Trying to encapsulate this truly vast wealth of knowledge, Brad VanAuken has written what promises to be the synoptic work on the subject. “Brand Aid” is a dense treatise that tries to make the very complicated issue of branding accessible. To say the least, that’s a tall order.

Just agreeing on the definition of a brand, for example, is daunting. Is it the logo? The name? The product itself? All of these? The arid textbook definitions put forth by the American Management Association and others do little to clarify the matter. VanAuken is at his best when he breaks through that clutter and writes things such as, “…A brand is the source of a promise to the consumer. It promises relevant differentiated benefits. Everything an organization does should be focused on enhancing delivery against its brand’s promise.” Right on!

It may be that the nearly impossible task of summarizing conventional brand knowledge in anything less than a thousand pages led to the somewhat confusing organization of this book. Rather than a logical progression through the branding process, Brand Aid is a challenging hodgepodge of checklists, figures, exhibits and notes. Only the intrepid reader, armed with a highlighter and a good deal of patience, is likely to make it past the first fifty pages.

That’s a great shame, since VanAuken is clearly a master of the branding game and has plenty of insight to share. It is surprising that someone of his erudition, presumably with the help of a book editor, could not anticipate the struggle such obtuse organization would present for the average reader. While academics may be accustomed to heavy tomes, this is clearly a book intended for the businessperson, and printing “reference guide” on the dust jacket does not relieve the author or the publisher of the responsibility to make the book readable.

That aside, VanAuken’s brand advice is both sound and timely. In a marketing world fraught with unprecedented media clutter and fragmented audiences, the power of a good brand is incalculable. As VanAuken sums it up: “Without a strong brand, your organization’s life span will be tied to the life span of the products it manufactures or the services it provides.”

Long live the brand!

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