Monday, March 07, 2005

Branding and UXCentricity

Although branding was officially declared dead some time ago (and by some folks I respect), I have to disagree.

Sort of.

If by "branding" you mean traditional, top-down, manipulative, disrespectful attempts to pound a perception of a company into the minds and hearts of "consumers," I wholly agree. The Brand is Dead. And none too soon.

Traditional branding is well-named. You chase down and lasso a baby cow and yank it off its feet with an exuberant Yee-haw! You drag it—squawling for its mother—to a firepit where irons are heating to red-hot extremes. While a couple of cowpoke colleagues hold the calf down, you forcefully apply an iron to its hide, blinking your eyes through the resulting smoke, aromatic of burned flesh. Once you're certain the calf is scarred for life, you restore its freedom.

That's broadcast branding. And if it's not dead yet, it's well on its way. The cattle have rebelled—not under a cry of "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" but "Markets are conversations."

Listen up, traditional branders. We end-users can no longer be herded like cattle by the cowboys of commercials and print ads. Commercial sponsorship is just a bleached skull in the desert. We don't notice fancy logos and clever corporate names any more than cows notice the glories of the Painted Desert. Pay your millions to the agencies and broadcasters, but know (and despair) that we see through you. You have no clothes.

If you want our hearts, our minds, our loyalties, our enthusiasm, our dollars, you'd better treat us well in every encounter we have with you. Every one. No exceptions. Slack off for a moment and we're gone. We call the shots now. It's all about us.

We've inaugurated a UXCentric world, one based on the totality of our interactions with and responses to your business, product or service in any and every medium.

If branding is to survive in this new world, it has to become UXCentric. It has to begin and end from the perspective of end-users—not the fertile minds of the creative staff in an ivory tower. It must at least address the needs and wants of users—not just corporate goals for profitability and growth. And (the biggest challenge of all) it requires satisfying the intangible and even unconscious goals and aspirations of end-users.

I don't think traditional marketers are up to the task. But UXCentrists are.

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