Let's Face It -- We're Brandwashed.

08/14/2009 10:54 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Brandwashed (def) A confused state of utter and complete denial, wherein marketers believe that the brand they create and their opinion of it are more important than the wants/needs/desires of the consumer.

Consumercentrics (def): The logical yet renegade assertion that retail products should be built from a consumer-centric perspective that begins at point of consumer purchase, not from the traditional brand-centric approach shaped well outside of the purchase arena.

Let's face it: the marketing industry is brandwashed. We've been living too long in idol worship, prostrate at the feet of brand positioned, advertising driven product images. We're slaves to the almighty brand "personality." We've let ourselves get swept away, dreamily pondering ad nauseam the human characteristics of inanimate objects. (I wish I had a shiny penny for every "If Acme Orange Juice was a person, what kind of person would Acme Orange Juice be?" type conversation I've witnessed in the past 20+ years.) In simple truth, we've been spending too many billable hours blowing smoke up our own shorts. If we used even half as much time considering the true product owners -- the purchasers -- as we did on our own brilliant and heady brand musings, we'd save billions in misspent dollars and countless hours of wasted effort while increasing sales and profits.

Here's the news flash: consumers are the most important considerations in a marketing cycle, and they don't spend countless hours wondering if their yogurt is "perky yet confident, not afraid to share its opinion but not a gossip, sporty but not a tom boy, with a hint of mischievous independence." If we have our brand blinders on, chances are we're not seeing past the brand. Consumers are the ultimate owners of the product -- they buy it, quite literally -- and they make the vast majority of their purchase decisions in-store.

Rather than starting in the corporate boardrooms with our ad and branding and various other marketing guys deeply considering the emotional truths of a bar of soap, we need to focus on the purchaser and her concrete wants/needs/desires. And we must recognize that the first time she reaches for the soap is not in the shower, it's in the aisle. What do our competitors say to her at the most important moment -- the moment of purchase impact? (Experts tell us that the majority of her purchase decisions are made at point of sale, not in the comfort of her house three miles from the store). Can we deliver a product that delivers the right answers to her? How can we win the support of the retailers? Once we answer these and a host of other consumer-centric and retail-centric questions, we can develop in-store strategies and brand positioning and advertising that make sense for the consumer. And, as a result of looking to brand and advertising as the last cogs in the marketing wheel rather than first, we won't spray countless dollars of brand buckshot over various forms a media hoping something will hit. We'll be more targeted, because we'll start where most sales happen -- in the mind of the consumer in the retail environment. If we start there, we'll only spend on advertising as necessary to round out an overall marketing strategy.

Whereas the above might cause many an advertising and brand manager some discomfort, logic is firmly on the side of a consumer-centric and retail-centric marketing approach. The majority of products are not deeply and emotionally driven, and Suzie Shopper approaches her purchase decision with a typically open mind. Regardless of how memorable the TV spot or enormous the media spend or massive the awareness numbers, your product is worthless until it's purchased by the consumer. Starbucks isn't the ultimate owner of its product. Wal-Mart(R) shareholders don't profit until consumers purchase their products and services and it hits the bottom line. McDonald's employees are merely the keepers of the brand. Until a product/service is purchased at retail, it is valueless. When consumers choose to engage or disengage a brand, they are determining its fate. Consumers are the brand champions, and their experiences at retail are the most important element of a product's marketing life cycle.
As marketers, we need to find the epicenter of the consumer experience and build our brands from that point outward. When convention is brand build then get it to the consumer, convention needs a reversal.

The brand owners have wants/needs/desires, and it's about time we recognize them.