Marketing: Definition Deliberations

Readers respond to recent columns on fuzzy biz-speak about branding. Also, family-owned concerns, women's hair loss, and more

Here's the latest installment of the SmallBiz Mailbag, an edited collection of some of the most recent and thought-provoking letters from our readers. We want to hear from you about which stories made you think and what issues affect your small business.

Empty Words Filled with Delusion (3/29)

Couldn't agree with you more. It's absolutely essential to have clarity, which is in such short supply in the marketing profession. It's a shame that marketing is usually seen as a "soft subject," starting from business schools to corporations. When will we all learn that it's marketing which drives the business? It's the only function that really creates -- all other either support or expend. And if we don't have clarity about what we're creating, then God save us and the companies we work for.

It's time we sit back and give a serious thought to what we're doing. What does it mean? What is this brand after all? I'm struggling to get clarity in my organization about the simple "semantic" issues you have brought out here. I will share the article with everyone, hopefully it will bring some sense home.


Bangalore, India

Kenton once again seems to be beating around the bush with his ideas of defining a brand. It seems that Kenton himself is not clear what a brand is. In my last feedback to one of his articles, I clearly mentioned that the so-called brand derivatives are merely looking at the same thing from different angles (see BW Online, 3/17/05, "What's in a Name? Your Personal Brand!"). This doesn't mean they're merely "semantic."

It seems quite obvious that marketers around the world will have different definitions of a brand, but what Kenton doesn't realize is that these differences in defining a brand don't change what it really is. So what if I define a brand in a different way than someone else in India? It's a matter of "looking at the same things differently." Does it ring the bell about brand derivatives now?

I just feel Kenton seems to be over-obsessed with the complexity of defining the simplicity of the term brand. I agree that "the valuation of business has shifted dramatically from tangible to intangible assets, and a determined drive is on to quantify and qualify the sources of value." However, I disagree with him regarding marketers not being adept at demonstrating return on investment. Marketing or branding is a qualitative aspect. It is not a 2+2 sum which will give you a definite answer. In marketing, you're playing with emotions and human psyche, not numbers.

In my opinion, I feel it's good in one way that most marketers around this world differ in their definition of a brand. What we haven't realized is that it's these differences that have enabled us to look at brand from so many different angles, and yet none of us is definite on what it actually is. But who cares? Does having one agreed definition of a brand make it easier for marketers to build a Coca Cola everyday? No, it doesn't.

In sum, it isn't about empty words filled with delusion, but more so words which open up avenues to understand and realize that the same thing can and should be viewed differently in order to keep creativity alive!

Gaurav Bahirvani

Corporate Brand Development Analyst

Manchester, Britain

Unfortunately, with the occasional exception of market research, there's a distinct lack of clear thinking that pervades the entire marketing activity. Ask any product engineer how often the wrong message is given by marketers unclear on the concepts of what they're trying to promote, to give just one common example!

Even more basic than defining the current buzzword of "branding" is the fundamental lack of communication regarding just what, in fact, "marketing" is all about and how it differs from "sales." The average person hasn't much of a clue, unfortunately -- even the average person within Corporate America.

Muddled thinking extends throughout our society today, often the result of indifferent education and the lack of any insistence upon performance by parents, educators, and managers. Misuse of language abounds and is a primary contributor to this kind of muddled thinking -- and is nowhere more evident than in the marketing profession.

It's refreshing to read an exposition of the problem -- we need much more of this kind of self-examination if we're to gain the attention and respect we seek.

David Neeley


Whoa! Slow Down Before You Start Up (3/28)

I greatly admire the many articles you devote to small business. I volunteer for SCORE and give workshops on business startup, the business plan, etc., in addition to counseling small-business clients. I read everything you print and often add your tips, advice, and references to my workshop material. Kudos!!

Frank Ceravolo

Jacksonville, Fla.

When the Kids Aren't Ready -- or Able (3/23)

There are a lot of family-owned business in China. How to install the basics for a successful business is still a problem they and their families must face.

Xiaozhong Xia

Zhuhai, Guangdong, China

I would like to let you know that being a third-generation family-business owner is always a tough challenge. We face very difficult issues that are very unique. I find these articles extremely helpful. Thank you SmallBiz.

Lawrence Maganzini


Medford, Mass.

What, Exactly, Is a Brand? (3/15)

While I appreciate Mr. Kenton's point of view and do believe that his point often gets lost, I believe it's an overly simplistic view of the world. This may work for a Coke, which doesn't change from year to year and [is a product that] people don't identify their self-worth with (no matter how much cola companies want you to think differently). However, with products that make deeper customer connections and that change from year to year, I think it's imperative for long-term success that consumers think more of your brand than it being just a symbol on the side of the product.

M. Treiber



Turning Hair Loss into Gain (1/28)

I want to thank you for the article on PK Walsh.

I am a current client of PK Walsh and I have been for over 12 years. The service they provide is immeasurable, and I don't know where I would be without them.

Kristine Sherman

Hudson, Mass.

Edited by Rod Kurtz

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.