What is De-Branding?

When I heard about the concept of de-branding, I panicked. Here I have spent 38 years trying to understand what branding was and now I thought someone was asking me to unlearn that. Well, after thinking about it for a while I’m happy to say that it’s not all that radical, and in fact it’s a very good thing in light of the era that we live in, the post-trust* era.

As a quick reminder, the “post-trust era” is this time that follows past decades of traditional interruptive marketing and advertising that pushed its way into our lives with promises of being the greatest, the biggest, the best, the oldest, the leader, etc. We now ignore all of the stuff because we simply don’t believe it to be actually true. Boasting no longer works a post-trust era.

So how does this impact the big brands of today? Well, they don’t need to worry about being the biggest, or the best, but being the most trusted. Yes, trusted. Trust is the paramount attribute achieved for any brand. Trust covers a multitude of sins. Hard to get, easy to lose, but you’ll never get it by boasting.

Here’s an analogy. We all love the stories of a famous person: the movie star or successful entrepreneur, who we learn is really a genuinely normal person: married, has kids, flies coach, lives in a modest house, drives an old car, and who works in a food pantry on Thanksgiving. When we find out that this once ivory-tower person is not so much unlike us, we suddenly like them more, identify with them, and more importantly, trust them.

This is what de-branding is all about. Stripping away the big corporation veneer and ivory tower status to expose a brand comprised of a bunch of friendly, decent folks, with good intentions and noble aspirations. And they can be trusted.

Not to pick on anyone in particular, but a few brands come to mind that could use some de-branding: Monsanto, Volkswagen (evil), Apple, IBM (monolithic), Comcast (mean), Whole Foods (overpriced), and the entire banking industry (greedy and untrustworthy). But how do you do that? Most of this is beyond the scope of a simple blog article, but let me give you an example over brand that is done this so well, One that you are familiar with: Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines is one of my favorite brands. After flying the cattle cars of American and United, I found Southwest friendly, approachable, smart, fun, accommodating, and trustworthy. Their fares are reasonable, they have a great on-time performance, and they figured out how to load a plane faster than anyone. Sure, they’re not perfect, but they have empowered their people to do what is best for their customer, from not penalizing you for changing reservation to their legendary lighthearted flight announcements. Southwest is a huge company, but they never make you feel that way. This is classic de-branding.

On the surface it seems like you could do this with clever tweets, or a friendly Facebook page—all good places to start—but it really goes so much deeper: from changing corporate policies to creating a culture of employees that feel unafraid to serve the customer in a way that puts them at ease.

De-branding does not change the formula: brand = recognition + meaning, it just puts the emphasis on creating a healthier “meaning.” And it is meaning that creates loyalty and trust, the Holy Grail of any brand. The bottom line: be nice. 

*Read an executive summary of the book The Language of Trust.

Author: Brad

Tags: de-branding