The Power of Branding

As of this writing, the swine flu has killed 141 victims in 74 countries. The World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic. Reports have monopolized the news media for months.

Meanwhile, all influenza viruses combined affect 3-5 million people per year on a worldwide scale, resulting in 500,000 deaths. When’s the last time you heard about that?

I maintain that swine flu has stolen the spotlight because of one thing: branding. Think about it. It has a cool, frightening name. Short. Easy to remember. Vaguely connected to pigs, which have a mixed reputation at best in the public mind. All it needs now is a logo.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m by no means minimizing the seriousness of the situation. But, compared to other diseases (and other issues like the economy, terrorism and North Korea), swine flu is pretty far down the list.

That’s the power of branding for you. According to Business Week, the top 10 brands for 2008 were:

1. Coca-Cola
2. IBM
3. Microsoft
4. General Electric
5. Nokia
6. Toyota
7. Intel
8. McDonald’s
9. Disney
10. Google

Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Sure, these are enormous companies spending billions of dollars on marketing. But so do other firms that didn’t even crack the top 100. What makes these brands so successful? And what the heck is a brand, anyway?

According to, a brand is a “unique and identifiable name, symbol association or trademark which serves to differentiate competing products or services. It is both a physical and emotional trigger to create a relationship between consumers and the product/service.”

Emotion is the key. What makes the brand powerful and effective, according to the Synergy Network (not a bad brand name) is its “ability to create a mood, thought, feeling, and definition such that the mere mention of the brand name connotes a greater meaning. The power of a brand lies in its ability to influence purchasing behavior.”

Think about the above companies. I’ll bet each one elicits one or two immediate feelings and thoughts, probably positive. It’s an amazing process, really. After all, Coke is little more than flavored fizzy water and is possibly one of the worst substances you can put in your body. But for most of the public, Coke is synonymous with good times, tradition, family, America and a raft of other attributes that have absolutely nothing to do with its physical ingredients. Instead, it has everything to do with what’s going on in the mind of the consumer, often at a subconscious level. This kind of response doesn’t happen by accident. It takes money, time and brilliant creative strategy.

I sometimes joke that our job, as marketers, is to brainwash the public. There’s a kernel of truth in that. Now, I’d prefer to be involved with products and services I believe in. If Toyota, Disney or Google want to contact Imagine Marketing, we’d be happy to help them out. But branding is such a powerful concept, it can work for just about anything. Ideas. Political parties. People. Personal branding is the wave of the future, thanks largely to the Web.

What does the public think about when they hear your name? When they Google you, what do they see? Employers, for example, are utilizing the Internet as never before to do background checks on potential new hires. Some of what they discover on Facebook, MySpace and other social sites can be make or break. And it stays up there forever. Together, it all adds up to your personal brand.

So think before you post. Maybe I should follow my own advice. I’m certain Coke won’t be contacting me for a job anytime soon.

Brian Rouff is the Managing Partner for Imagine Marketing.
Contact Brian at

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