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    True story: Why you should start de-branding your business

    1024 683 Adrian Klee | Strategy Consulting

    Surprise: People want satisfying products, services & experiences that deliver true value instead of disappointing and annoying messages that inherently camouflage the commercial intentions of your company.

    Nowadays, there is such a huge discrepancy between how marketing / branding is done by most companies and how consumers perceive and evaluate all of the branded content around them: On the one hand, companies try to sell their stuff by developing ridiculous advertising and brand messages that most of the time over-exaggerate the true value of their products or services. On the other hand, most people are saturated with over-promising marketing messages, so they build mental barriers in order to filter out all the message and communication channel clutter that has built up over time.  

    That’s exactly why you should start de-branding your business!

    Here’s a recent example to illustrate my point. Since several years now, Mercedes-Benz (MB) utilises its BlueTec technology to brand their cars as the most environmentally friendly diesel. Well, as it turned out the self-proclaimed “cleanest diesel in the world”  is not sustainable at all. In fact, Mercedes-Benz is getting sued atm, as it has been misleading its customers since 9 (!) years – the independent Dutch testing agency TNO revealed that the BlueTec technology only works in the lab, but in the real world the cars won’t keep their advertising promise and exceed the allowed emission heavily. However, all brand messages praise that the cars are extremely clean, so that the customers don’t even notice how environmentally unfriendly they really are. Apparently, Mercedes-Benz had one single goal in mind: trick consumers into the thinking that BlueTec is for real. In order to build the fairytale brand message over time, MB worked with leading branding agencies and pumped hundreds of millions of Euros into their marketing efforts, including brand endorsements by celebrities and large-scale campaigns. The funny mission was to fuel the minds of the people with “TrueBlue Thinking” (yes, this is the original slogan by MB). The only problem is: you can’t make up for your failed product experience with branding. 

    Internationale Stars fahren Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC- und Hybrid-Fahrzeuge

    The MB case is not an isolated one, just look at what happened at VW. Even worse, how can the advertising industry and specifically all the marketing strategists sit quietly in their office lofts, when they know that all the messages and brand promises they produced are utter bulls*!t?! As you can see, this is a beautiful large-scale example of how branding can be misused and disguise the commercial ambitions of a company. What about saving all the marketing budget and putting it into R&D, so that we will drive truly sustainable cars in the future?! Of course, this advice goes beyond the automotive industry, just look at how the most ordinary products, like running shoes or food bars, are advertised nowadays. 

    But wait -what’s the bottom line?

    How do you de-brand? How can you connect to your customers in a meaningful way? First, get back to the basics: listen to your customers, solve what gives them a headache in their everyday life and then offer real value by developing truly useful products and services. Your customers just want to get their job done, so don’t waste their time with all the brand and advertising clutter. Reflect on the true values and mission of your company, use your competence to create superior products and customer experiences, and then build your brand around it, not the other way round. Just check out the branding of Viceland, the new TV channel by VICE, which takes the concept of de-branding quite literally, as described by creative communication agency Gretel:

    The basic ingredients combine in different proportions to modulate the VICELAND expressions. Content falls under one of three types: smart and curious, light and fun, or deep and dangerous.

    The objective, null design brings the personalities, content and tone of each show to the foreground while allowing for diversity in composition and messaging, and smooth translation to any platform.

    Branding will always play a crucial part for businesses, however, it will be more focused: reduce the message complexity, cut down all the branding that distracts from the real value of your offering – that’s all that counts. Your customers will appreciate it.

    Find further readings on the concept of de-branding here.