Who should I make this check out to?

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I believe that sometimes the things we find online are somehow put in our path… that we don’t “randomly” come across some of the stories we read, but a higher power, some kind of Internet deity, directs your browser to what it wants you to read. So when I got an email from my friend Jeff Faulkner recommending the Bubblegeneration blog, I thought it was interesting, added it to my RSS, and moved on. Then, I read a Campaign article by Russell Davies that quotes Umair Haque and links to a post on the Harvard Business Online blog. Turns out Umair is also the mind behind Bubblegeneration. All this is to say it appears like I was meant to read something by this guy, and who am I to ignore the Internet deity?

This is the article: The Shrinking Advantage of Brands.

Then I read The New Economics of Brands.

First, a brief summary of each article to frame the conversation, or at least here’s what I got out of the articles… In “The Shrinking Advantage of Brands,” Umair writes about how Google, with virtually no money spent on advertising, has built the gold standard of brand valuation (PDF link), above companies like Coke, P&G and Nike. Instead of investing billions of dollars in advertising their brand (like many of the others on the list), Google has invested billions of dollars on creating and improving the experience of interacting with their brand offerings. Today, and tomorrow, brands will be successful not through telling everyone their brand is great, but by doing what makes their brand great. “The New Economics of Brands” explores the idea of investing in customers, not in advertising. To quote the post, “the future of communications as advantage lies in talking less, and listening more. The decision to invest in consumers is also a decision to listen to consumers – instead of talk at them.”

That last line really sums it up.

“…the future of communications as advantage lies in talking less, and listening more. The decision to invest in consumers is also a decision to listen to consumers – instead of talk at them.” – Umair Haque

Any brand, from Google to you, can build their brand by not spending millions on advertising. There are plenty of smaller examples that have done this (Twitter, Stumptown Coffee, Substance). After all, “a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization.” You can build your brand by investing in you. Invest in improving your products, services and experiences. Invest in what makes you different. Invest in your conversations with others. Invest in doing better.

Digital happens to be a great medium in order to facilitate the conversation and build the relationship. A great digital solution doesn’t just tell. It involves people in the story. It talks, and it listens. Beyond a web site, digital brand participates in the dialogue all around the internet, on mobile devices, anywhere and everywhere that interaction and communication exists. Digital brand (well, really brand as a whole) participates in the conversation where people are, not just the brand outpost at www.yourbrand.com.

I’m not saying advertising isn’t necessary. What effective advertising does is start the conversation… it doesn’t simply tell you something. Example?

In the above Apple “ad,” are they telling you about a product? Or are they creating a relationship around what it means to have the “Apple philosophy?” Are they starting a conversation about “the crazy ones, the misfits, and the rebels?”

So when you’re thinking about your budgets for the upcoming year, or next year, or whenever, think about what is going to build your brand. Is it creating an ad and buying ad space? Is it investing that money in making your product, service or experience better (after all, a great ad about a crappy product doesn’t make the product any better)? Is it investing in the people who work at your company so they learn new skills and helps them provide better service to your clients? Is it investing in conversations with people instead of talking at them?

Is it investing in something that will contribute to a great relationship between people and your brand?

p.s. As an aside, Shaun and I had a long discussion about the two posts mentioned above. Interestingly, while Google has some great services (search, Gmail, Analytics, Google Docs, Maps…), it has built its fortune through advertising. Sure, the ads they serve up might be “relevant” to what you’re looking for, but they’re still interruptions. They’re links thrown in your path, hoping you’ll click on them. So really Google has built their fortune, which certainly isn’t the same as their brand, through the spending of all the other brands on the list (and millions of other companies) on exactly what Google doesn’t purchase themselves. Ergo, if everyone stopped spending money on ads, would Google still be able to invest in their brand in the same way?

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