Branding the hard way (leave it to the MBAs)

Absolut_100_stickers I went to the opera, Wagner, last night, a weird MET production that teetered between solemn and camp.  Eesh. 

Robert Wagner, now with this Wagner, an actor of standing, a man of deep and relentless talent, this sort of thing doesn’t happen.  Ok, so it happens all the time.  Never mind. 

But what was really distressing was the conversation at dinner.  I listened to people talk about how very confusing things are inside some corporations, how little clarity is brought to bear on critical questions of the brand.

It’s as if there’s no system.  The marketing people, often MBAs, are reduced to issuing "make it so" pronouncements.  Because, chances are, they don’t know how to "make it so."  Let’s hope someone else does. 

Business schools are not very forthcoming on this one.  What is the brand?  How does the brand speak for the marketing team and the corporation?  How does it speak to the consumer, in all of his/her/their blooming?  How does the brand keep it’s center of gravity in a culture that looks more and more like the Bermuda triangle in hurricane season.  (Brands disappear!  We don’t know why!)  This is a complicated business about which the business school offers merely a chapter here and there, and at best a course in the second year. 

But really it’s up to kids without much preparation to preside over the brand, and they are making a hash of it.  Just ask anyone who works with them. 

Brands, they are really, really, really hard to do well.  Very smart people, with great training, working at the top of their game, with magnificent colleagues and limitless resources can still get it wrong. When is the business school world going to snap out of it and get this right? 

When Wagner sings Wagner at the MET, that would be my guess.  Maybe we should just start again. 

8 thoughts on “Branding the hard way (leave it to the MBAs)

  1. Tom Guarriello

    My guess: never. It’s too difficult for people with no experience to really learn in the time allotted. And, those with experience aren’t going to business school anymore.

    Now, by contrast, on Saturday night at the Met, we saw the most sublime Marriage of Figaro we’ve ever seen. Every single detail came together to make it a beautiful musical and dramatic presentation of that wonderful opera. Also, the absolutely sexiest interpretation, with a very attractive cast, which didn’t hurt a bit. When it was done, two comments summed it up. My friend George, who’s probably seen Figaro at least as many times as I have said, “well, no need to see Marriage of Figaro again; that was the definitive performance.” And Karen, my wife, said, “that’s probably how Mozart imagined it when he wrote it.”

  2. Adriano

    At my last job I worked with this woman who graduated from McGill University and she decribed her degree as half an MBA. Her job title was Brand Manager (aka resume superstar). It all made sense when she asked me how do you build brand and once stated if a logo isn’t a brand then what is it? I have this strange feeling she is now working at some giant company telling people to “make it so”. I need to get back to work now the slurpee machine is empty.

  3. Grant

    Tom, so maybe its time to create a summer school program. The MBA was meant to cap an undergraduate degree. A branding program could cap the MBA. But your right, two weeks isn’t time enough. Good choice on the opera. Thanks, Grant

    Adriano, McGill, what I could see of the MBA program, was especially, almost tragically clueless, when it came to branding. All they seem to do is to endow students with a sense of entitlement. A little like that FedEx commercial:

    administrative assistant: courier this now!

    new hire: but I have an MBA.

    administrative assistant: You have an MBA? Oh, then I’ll have to show you how to do it.

    Thanks, Grant

  4. Mary Schmidt

    Ah yes. You’re speaking to one of my pet peeves. Somehow people think “MBA” automatically and instantly translates to “expert.” Which is why – when I’m a guest speaker at MBA classes – I hit them with the real world. Here’s what you’re reading. Here’s how it really works (or doesn’t in many cases.) If the students are older and already in the work force, they usually get it. If they’re college-age students, it’s very baffling to them.

    As for all kanuffles around “branding” – well, I could go on for days! 😉

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  7. Grant

    Mary! I am setting aside a named chair (something like, the P&G chair for good marketing) aside for you on the new campus! See you in the fall. Thanks, Grant

  8. steve

    I teach strategy, not marketing, but branding naturally comes up frequently. In my experience, students tend to overestimate the power of brands, thinking of them as magic talismans that mesemerise the customer. They aren’t real clear on how brands are generated or how they work. I smugly blame the marketing faculty, because we academics are good at passing the buck–also it kind of seems like their job.

    Before I get into anything subtle, I always try to get them to distinguish different kinds of brands: quality assurance for experience and/or credence goods (e.g. Perdue chicken or Gold Medal flour), social identification (e.g., many apparel brands), individual identification (e.g. Motel 6’s “smart and thrifty” pitch), mental association with pleasant images/sensations (e.g, York Peppermint Patties) etc. These have different economic results and different cost structures. Until you get those basic distinctions down, it’s like trying to explain “illness” without distinguishing bacteria, viruses, and allergies.

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