The value of a company's brand has always been in what it represents to the customer - being recognisable and trusted were products of good branding. Good brands were deeply embedded through their organisations, but branding to most businesses was simply about the logo, colours and a tag line, and making sure their market knew what each was.
It's all about engagement
Customers have changed, engagement is now most important to them. The customer still looks for businesses and products they can trust and recognise, but they want to engage with the business to decide which is the best for them. This makes engagement the primary tool to communicate with an audience, the brand has moved to the supporting role.
I'm not saying your business shouldn't have a brand, and especially not that the elements of a traditional brand are not important. Your brand though is now an internal tool, which you use as the basis of the ways you communicate with your customers and audiences, not all of what you communicate to them.
As business (especially retail) has moved towards more impersonal sales models, customers have moved their need for interaction with a business to a deeper level. With face to face interaction decreasing, customers look for the entity as a whole to provide them with the relationship traditionally received from the sales transaction. There is a much greater emphasis now on corporate good and an organisation’s high level position on key issues relating to its field or industry.
The branding ship has sailed
This means the concept of branding as being able to encompass everything about a company and its products is no longer enough to satisfy the market. Traditional branding was like a picture and a good brand was a talking picture. The new brand is a container. It is where your customers, and the wider market, will place everything they think and feel about your company and product.
The way you fill your container, or give the market the things they need to fill it (hopefully the way you want them to) comes down to transparency. The whole of your organisation should be accessible to those who wish to find it, nothing should be hidden. Integrated communications - where all of the organisation’s marketing, promotion, public relations, advertising and internal communications talk to each other, is where your strategy should be focused.
To be effective against the raft of competition, companies need to concentrate on coming to life for your customers. Coming to life means existing in the same world as them. Your company's brand lives in your world, not theirs. You need to communicate it to your customers, but you also need to listen to what they're telling you.
The traditional brand is a one way tool. You send it out, but it doesn't provide a way itself for anything to come back. If you can't hear its difficult to establish a dialogue, and when dialogue breaks down there can be serious repercussions for a company and its reputation (some oil and automotive brands are examples of this in recent history).
Trying to use your brand as the only tool to communicate with an audience is like trying to listen with your fingers in your ears. It just doesn't work. Your brand isn't everything, in the modern marketplace it doesn't even come close to being enough.
By all means have a brand. By all means use it. But remember it must form part of a much more comprehensive approach in order to satisfy your customers and set you apart from your competition.
Your customer doesn't care about your brand. They want to know who you really are.