The Cart Before The Horse

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / 

“So tell me Watson, what are your views on branding?” said The Effective Detective, beginning a new discussion. I am always wary when a conversation starts out with such a wide open question.

“Branding, sir? I am unsure of my views on the subject. Perhaps you would care to guide me with yours,” I replied, deciding that cowardice was the better part of valor.

The Detective raised an eyebrow, but I also noticed that he couldn’t suppress the slightest of grins; he knew that I knew the game. “Ah Watson, well-played. I’ll start then on what I have found to be yet another topic so often discussed at the wrong time, for lack of a better way to describe it, by some of our marketing brethren.”

“Sir, is there ever a wrong time to discuss marketing?” I exclaimed, worried that perhaps now marketing had become a taboo subject like religion and politics.

“Hmm, let me be a little more specific here Watson to relieve your concerns. By wrong time, I am referring to the order of a discussion of marketing strategies and tactics, rather than a particular time or meeting place. The question is when does branding become a critical part of your marketing strategy? The answer, I fear, is not when many are told, or think.

“You see Watson, a brand, at least the way it seems to be generally thought of, is more of a place-marker. It is a way for people to associate a particular mark, phrase, or even just a name, with you or your product or service,” The Effective Detective said, pausing slightly, which allowed me to jump in with a concern.

“But isn’t that a good thing sir? Giving people an easy way to identify you? I would think that is the heart of marketing.”

“A fair point, Watson,” The Detective conceded, “but, it misses a far broader point,” he finished, prompting a swift reaction from me.

“So branding is bad?” I asked.

“Elementary my dear Watson,” The Detective replied, again with that slight smile telling me he was springing his rhetorical trap.  “I never said that it was a bad thing, merely often misplaced in the order of things that are important to building a business through strong marketing. Yes, a brand will help identify you, however, it does nothing to show people why it is important to pay attention to you, and what the results of working with you or your product are. It does nothing to bring people into your tribe. It is a sign-post indicating that something is available through you, but why should they care? What will happen by engaging you?

“Yet, I see people worrying over their logo, whether they have just the right tag line, and are the colors right on their website, when often they don’t even have a way to capture email addresses on that site! The text of their site talks about them, essentially identifying them rather than what the result of working with them will be. This obsession with trying to get people to associate you with something  is detrimental to the far more important task of getting them to raise their hand. To show an interest in what you are offering.

“The one thing that I do see obsessing over establishing a brand early does for you is that you present a consistent face to the market. However, I think that can be done in the early phases simply by focusing on your niche.

“Once you have an established presence, spending some time on branding makes sense. Ensure that your clients have a consistent way to refer to you when they are referring you. To be able to give them a way to identify that they are part of your tribe, which can catch the attention of others who might raise their hand. But, the single most important thing initially is just to get out there, and give people a reason to raise your hand. Worry about your “brand” later,” The Detective concluded, and waited for anything I might have to add.

“The marketing process can be fraught with twists and turns, sir,” I  concluded.

“Quite, Watson.”


  1. Oh the countless stories I could tell of branding gone all wrong… even with the best of intentions!

    You make a great point about it being done to early. In most cases, it can’t be done if it is to early in the process. The business needs time to develop and respond to the market–the owners need that very same thing! When branding is to heavily focused on in the beginning, it usually requires the company going back to the basics and starting over 18 months to 5 years later. They realize that they and their company has changed or grown into a direction that it wasn’t possible for them to see when they started.

    Remember to start with a clean image, but then use the branding as another reason to reach out to the market and engage them.

I love comments good and bad! Let me know what you think!