Over on Telepocalypse, Martin muses about the Death of Branding. I believe an accurate summary of his much longer post would be "features are trumping brand", and "branding a commodity is not a viable strategy."
People often mistake brand for the image a company wants to portray in the market. In reality, brand is the image that the public has of the company, which might be very different from what the marketeers think. I recommend everyone interested in this topic go read Al Ries’ excellent 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. The relevant pieces for the purposes of this discussion are:
- Brand is built via conversations in the market. Ries recommends PR as a strategy, for instance, but the book is old, and he could just as easily be talking about blogs, user groups, and any of a host of other 1:1 marketing techniques that we all know and love.
- Brand is defended using advertising and other expensive promotional elements. You take the conversations you’ve had during the brand building stage, and reflect them back to the larger market using a larger megaphone.
The vulnerability of all branding strategies is that the market changes, that the conversation the brand was built on is no longer relevant, and the minions in the marketing department who are in charge of brand management miss the change.
What Martin and others are seeing at the moment is the failure of the incumbents to understand that the market has shifted. The monopoly they so jealously defend (dial-tone) is now a commodity. A better question might be more introspective — did they have strong brands, or just a monopoly? Are the VoIP raiders, like Vonage, about to be the first communications companies to truly build meaningful brands with their customers, or are they just like the incumbents?