It seems that, these days, anyone can call themselves a 'branding expert.' Heck, I guess if you are pro-active enough to be calling yourself a 'branding expert,' you must clearly know a thing or two about brand.
The problem is that there is no formal vetting process for branding experts. No clear hierarchy of whom is more expert than whom. No pecking order of expert-ness. Add to this a layer of lazy journalism, and one ends up with new articles about brands that are peppered with crazy, untrue, and sometimes downright stupid statements - that are treated as fact because they are attributed to a 'branding expert.'
Supposedly, since the comment comes from a branding expert, the journalist writing the article is shielded from shame - I mean it was said by a BRANDING EXPERT! But isn't there some responsibility on the journalist's part to actually do some background checking as to how expert the expert really is? What are their credentials? What huge brands have they built from scratch? What deep consumer insights have they uncovered?
Wow - I didn't realize how much pent up frustration I had on this topic! It has all been brought to the surface this afternoon by one statement I read in a recent Brandweek article entitled "Why Some Brands Cheer a Sour Economy." In talking about how some brands can actually thrive in down economies, some recent Wal-Mart growth was given as an example.
This was followed by this statement from BRANDING EXPERT and author Rob Frankel:
"Wal-Mart is the brand that reminds people they are poor. Nobody shops at Wal-Mart because they want to; they shop there because they have to. The minute the economy recovers, Wal-Mart's sales will drop like a brick."
Oh really, branding expert? So let me get this straight - after the economy recovers, Wal-Mart - one of the most successful retailing brands in the history of retailing - will see sales drop like a brick. Just like they did from 2006 to 2007 when they rose 10.5% to $348.65 BILLION or like they did from 2007 to 2008 when they rose 8.6% to $378.8 BILLION. This is the same Wal-Mart who makes or breaks years for manufacturers based on whether they run VIP promotions. The same Wal-Mart who employs over 1.4 million people in the US, who operates over 4,100 stores in the US and where more than 200 million people in the US shop every year. This is the Wal-Mart whose sales will "drop like a brick" when the economy turns around????
So, not only is the basic premise of the thought completely and utterly ridiculous, but the statement itself is incredibly offensive. Only poor people shop at Wal-Mart? Really? My family actually happens to have a Wal-Mart within walking distance of our home. We shop there all the time. For us, it's really convenient for picking up staples like diapers and milk and household products. It has a pharmacy that is cheaper than other alternatives and it has great hours and prices in general. It's certainly not the only place we shop, but it definitely captures a percentage of our weekly shopping dollars - as I'm sure it does for a large portion of the US population - whether they are poor, middle class or wealthy. Because lots of folks - not just poor people - are big fans of not spending more than they need to on stuff.
Ok, ok, I can hear you thinking "Calm down Len - it's just one quote in one article. Don't get so worked up." And I agree with you, about the not getting so worked up part (because that is bad for me). But this single instance points to a much greater problem. See, someone is going to read that article and accept what this guy Rob Frankel has said as gospel. I mean, he is a branding expert, right? I mean the article said so, and they must do their research... And this type of BS happens all the time. And the result is that people walk around making faulty decisions based on a false sense of education. And that, inherently, is bad.
As an aside, here are Frankel's credentials for being a branding expert:
- he self-published a book in 2000 called "The Revenge of Brand X" that is currently ranked #611,626 on Amazon.
- he has a rambling, poorly structured website (robfrankel.com) that is led off by a creepy animated headshot of Rob winking at you.
- he says that he has "been called "the best branding expert on the planet," by Fortune 1000 companies and media like CNN, CBS News, FOX News, NBC Nightly News, ABC News, CNBC, the Wall Street Journal, London Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News Media , the Washington Post, INC magazine and more." (Although, later in his website, he actually attributes the 'best branding expert on the planet' quote to StrikingItRich.com. When you go to StikingItRich.com, you just get a black screen indicating that this amazing and innovative URL is for sale.)
Now, I don't mean to bash on Mr. Frankel so much. If he is getting tons of consulting work and gets media outlets to interview him as an expert, then, well, he must be doing something right. I place the fault on the journalists who are presenting opinions from folks like Frankel to their audience as fact and justifying them with 'expert' labels. I think it's time that these writers put some more due diligence into who they are going to for expert opinions - not just speed dialing the folks who are most likely to give juicy sound-bites. If mass media is going to survive, it is going to have to do better than this...
And now please excuse me as I gingerly step off my soap box. Good day.