Why Brand Marketing Doesn’t Work (And What You Should Do Instead)

Nicolas Cole
4 min readAug 28, 2021

Brand marketing doesn’t work.

And if brand marketing doesn’t work, then what’s a marketer, an executive, an entrepreneur to do?

The answer is certainly not to come up with airy-fairy attributes and qualities in an attempt to “distinguish” the company, product, or service from identical offerings (“Make the logo BIGGER!”).

The only time you should ever rebrand is when you are launching a new category design.

However, branding in the absence of category design is asinine.

Remember: categories make brands, not the other way around.

Google’s brand is only valuable in the context of the category it created and dominated, which is Search. Take Google’s brand and extend it into Facebook’s “social network” category, and it’s worthless. Same goes for Microsoft and it’s attempt to extend its brand into Apple’s category of in-store experiences.

Instead, branding should be used in conjunction with the new and different category you are creating. The category and brand have to come together in some meaningful way for the customer, consumer, or user.

For example:

  • Barcade: The original Arcade Bar. It’s not a bar, and it’s not an arcade. It’s an Arcade Bar. It’s a different thing, in a different category. The brand then reflects all the things that make this thing fundamentally different.
  • 5-Hour Energy: Energy shots. The category is “energy shots.” And the brand is “5-hour Energy.” The brand name reflects the differentiated category. The two are inextricably linked.
  • Under Armour: Athletic undergarments. The category is, “clothes you wear under your clothes when you’re being athletic.” And the brand is, “Under Armour.” The brand name is telling customers what the category is. “Under Armour is the originator of performance apparel — sportswear engineered to keep athletes cool, dry and light throughout the course of a game, practice, or workout.” Their brand, in the context of this new and different category they created, is legendary. Outside of this category, Under Armour is a next-next-next-best alternative to Nike…
Nicolas Cole

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