I've started having these marketing nightmares lately. A few nights ago I had a dream about the beggar who regularly comes to my gate asking for a cup of tea or a handful of change and suddenly, there he was in a pinstripe suit declining my offer of a cuppa.
"I haven't got time to chat," he said, "you see I've decided to rebrand myself..." and then, pop! he disappeared.
My slumbers were interrupted next by a dream about my dog running away and hiding when I whistled for her to come for a walk. Something she looked forward to with gusto and usually went into a frenzy of tail-wagging and frenetic panting at the mere mention of the "W" word.
As I tried to entice her out of the hollyhocks at the bottom of the garden she bared her teeth, growled and said, "Leave me alone, I don't want to go walkies because I'm trying to rebrand myself."
I woke up in a sweat and tried to recount the number of times in the past year I have heard about unusual people, places, institutions and myriad inanimate objects feverishly trying to rebrand themselves - a parish church, a dental practice, assorted charities, six schools, a government department or two, an entire South African province, a strip club and all sorts of pseudo celebrities and media personalities.
What they were actually wanting to do of course, was market themselves. Something completely different to what branding is all about.
It's not their fault of course, marketers are the culprits here. After all, one of the most popular definitions of marketing is "something simple made indescribably difficult".
Now, because the fundamentals of marketing have not changed in hundreds of years, marketers find themselves having to regularly come up with new buzzwords that sound new, exciting, a tad mystical and hopefully irresistible to people such as managing directors and accountants. Either that, or to reintroduce something that has been around for ages and make it sound like the bee's knees of modern marketing.
And the latest of these is branding. Suddenly everyone is talking branding. The fact is that branding is a function of marketing. Just as advertising, selling, merchandising, packaging, pricing, PR, research and sales promotion are elements of what in the 1970s was called the marketing mix and which in those days got business pulses racing just as quickly as the word branding does today.
Now, I am not suggesting that branding is not relevant or important today. It is. What I am suggesting is that marketers start becoming a little circumspect when talking about branding and put it in context.
I doubt whether there is any other professional discipline in the world that goes to quite so much trouble to confuse its customers.
What with manipulating marketing people and the advertising industry either in deep water for trampling on sensitivities or rewarding themselves by holding up as examples of creative genius advertising campaigns that have failed dismally, it is little wonder that boards of directors the world over look for most of their marketing advice from their auditors and accountants.