212. Graceann Bennett: Brands Are Value-Generating Assets, Marketing Is Just Tactics

Peter Drucker famously identified the only two value-generating functions of the firm as innovation and marketing. We propose to differentiate brand building (or branding) from marketing, especially in this digital age. Brands are the vehicle for framing, establishing, nurturing and enhancing relationships with customers. In the digital age, marketing has become mechanized and mathematicised; it’s about numbers more than about human values and emotional bonding. Graceann Bennett is a branding expert who has devoted her career and her research agenda to furthering the science of brand building.

Knowledge Capsule

Brands are assets that drive customer value and business revenue, and they’re more valuable than ever in the digital age.

Our Economics For Business entrepreneurial method emphasizes the facilitation of value for customers — it is customers who create value through their experiences, and the role of entrepreneurship is to facilitate those valuable experiences. Brands are platforms for value facilitation and conduits for value delivery. In the economic system where assets are value drivers, brands are high-capacity intangible assets. They can be developed and nurtured through various types of economic investment, with a high return on that investment because of the closeness to the customer that they can embody. The investment can be creative and intellectual and is not necessarily limited by budgets and financial resources.

Brands hold emotional and relational value, often communicated through symbols and codes.

Brands have meaning for customers, and the meaning is differentiated — customers prefer one brand over another. Brands fit into their lives and connect to them emotionally – they can trust brands, rely on brands, and even love brands. Brands express the essential humanism of economics – the entrepreneurial ethic of improving others’ lives. They represent an understanding of human yearnings. They help people who are striving to be the best version of themselves. They’re a great tool for entrepreneurs.

Brands often communicate via symbols and codes: advertising, logos, package design, social media, and sales presentations. These are important, but they’re not the essence of branding. That role is reserved for the emotional connections that brands make with customers, engendering trusted relationships.

In the digital age, marketing has lost the art of branding.

Brand building is an art, an engagement with customers on a psychological and philosophical plane, enhanced by creativity, design, expressive language and visualization. In the digital age, marketing is headed in a different direction. Marketing has become mathematicised. Digital marketing is all about the numbers: audience reach and likes and engagement metrics defined as clicks and views. It’s the mechanics of the engagement funnel, of clicks leading to conversions. Graceann Bennett called this approach “the attention economy rather than the emotional economy”.

Even worse, marketers are antagonizing customers with an interrupt-and-annoy approach of increasingly invasive pop-ups and intrusions and uninvited invitations in e-mail and text. Annoyingly intrusive marketing can further decay into creepiness as consumers receive offers for goods and services algorithmically triggered by their search history and e-mail conversations or voice requests to Siri or Alexa that they might not have realized were quite as available to marketers as they are.

Branding creates customer relationships through emotion and psychology.

The mathematical, mechanical approach is exactly the opposite of the human approach of brand building. Branding aspires to a relationship with customers, a creative relationship of innovation and renewal that continuously improve customers’ expectations of what’s possible and their anticipation of satisfactions to come from brand usage and branded services. Entrepreneurial brand owners seek to understand the needs and wants of customers, and what they find disappointing in current experiences, with a view to making their experiences and their lives better. A lot of this initiative takes place in the realm of psychology, getting inside customers’ minds to understand their preferences and why they hold them, and their choices and why they make them.

Brandowning firms examine themselves critically to ensure that they are authentic in serving customers’ emotional and psychic needs.

Graceann Bennett employs Jungian archetype analysis to clarify and channel brand approaches to customer relationships, emphasizing what’s authentic in the brand’s character and orientation that aligns best with customer psychology. While the first stage of the entrepreneurial method is a deep understanding of the customer and their needs so as to define and scale a potential market, it’s also appropriate in the solutions design stage for the brand owner to look inward to define the persona for the brand. To establish trust and build a relationship, a brand must inspire confidence on the customer’s part, and to do so must establish authenticity: when claiming to deliver a benefit and facilitate a valuable experience, the brand claims must be consistent with the brand character, the brand heritage and the brand history. A brand can’t claim to be something it’s never been before, or claim a meaning and a purpose that it has never before exhibited. It can add features and polish and update its attributes, but it can’t depart entirely from its historical, observed orientation. Brand relaunches and repositionings risk losing connection with the customer if they are not credible.

Brands should search not for novelty in presenting themselves, but depth, clarity and simplicity in establishing brand character.

Ethnography is the best research technique to develop empathic engagement between brands and customers.

Ethnography is mingling with customers, talking to them, listening intently, and observing their actions and behaviors. This kind of interactive contact with customers should be primary – the analysis of digital clicks and views and followers and even purchase behavior can’t deliver the same rich emotional and psychic consumer understanding and insight. In the digital age, we’ve abandoned the art of mingling, and that’s a difference between branding and marketing.

Additional Resources


Playbook Studio: Playbook.Studio

Graceann Bennett on LinkedIn: Mises.org/E4B_212_LinkedIn