The Evolution of Branding : Q&A with “Brand Zeitgeist” author Chris Houchens

There are people in this world who go with the flow. And then there are people like Chris Houchens, who are progressive, trend-sensitive and always “on to something” and remain a step ahead. He’s someone to watch.

As an online and multimedia enthusiast while working as a biz reporter at the Bowling Green Daily News I had a routine of visiting Houchens, the Webmaster and online guru for the paper.

Beyond his role at the Daily News, Chris Houchens continues his professional career working in both media and marketing. His resume has great range, from managing operations of a radio group to publishing the online edition of a daily newspaper and from directing the marketing of a healthcare organization to operating his own marketing consulting and speaking business.

Above: “Brand Zeitgeist” author Chris Houchens.

His newest venture is “Brand Zeitgeist,” a book that looks at integrating brands into culture. You can find reviews, excerpts, links to the book’s social media sites, and more at http://www.BrandZeitgeist.com.

Ameerah: Why did you decide to write Brand Zeitgeist?

Chris: I wanted to write a book that encompassed my entire marketing philosophy. The foundation and core of all marketing activities is built on the brand so that seemed a good guide to use.

Also, as I go and speak to groups, I find that people don’t understand what a brand is. I wanted to write a simple and common sense explanation of branding.

Ameerah: What has the response been so far?

Chris: The people who have read it have loved it. The feedback that I have gotten reveals that readers really enjoy the stories and case studies. I tried to use examples that haven’t really been used before in branding books so we get some unique stories ranging from Santa Claus to how Hawaiians eat SPAM as illustrations of brand strategy.
I attempted to write the book in a way so that anyone, even if they’re not a marketer, would enjoy it. But I also think that seasoned brand pros will enjoy the fresh perspective of branding that the book brings.

Ameerah: Branding has become a puffed up word that almost doesn’t have meaning to everyday business people. How does your book seek to reinvent the premise for businesspeople?

Chris: Many businesspeople have gotten caught in one of two brand traps. The first is that many think of a brand just as the logo and nothing more. While the logo and other visual aspects of the brand are important (I devote an entire chapter of the book to them), the true meaning of brand runs much deeper.

The second brand trap is that for people who have tried to understand the deeper implications of brand, they have gotten bogged down in meaningless buzzwords and theory that don’t work in the real world.

I wrote Brand Zeitgeist to get past both those. The book teaches that a brand is nothing more than a relationship between a customer and the business. The question is how do you nurture that relationship and develop other relationships with new customers? Businesses can tap into the power of the zeitgeist to spread their marketing messages by bringing their brand to the forefront of customers’ minds. Businesses can also use the zeitgeist to provide those customers the tools to spread their message through word-of-mouth and other viral channels.

Ameerah: Tapping into the zeitgeist effectively seems to be an intuitive part of marketing – good or bad. How did you choose the term zeitgeist and why did you choose to focus on it?

Chris: The Zeitgeist is an abstract concept to describe the evolving collective consciousness of society. It’s what’s on people’s minds, what they’re talking about in their social circles, and it shapes how trends are developed. Branding is also an abstract idea to describe the relationship between consumers and a company.

It struck me that the two concepts could be used together. Brands need to get into the zeitgeist to have any level of brand awareness. They need to be aware of the current zeitgeist to craft effective marketing messages (PR, advertising, etc).

Ameerah: What is your advice to small businesses searching to tap into the zeitgeist to promote what they’re doing and make a connection with people?

Chris: You have to get inside your customers’ heads. The mistake many small businesses make is that they approach their marketing from their own perspective. You have to market from the mindset of the customer.

Ameerah: How have you seen social media change the marketing field in the last two years?

Chris: Social media and other aspects of the online zeitgeist have completely turned marketing on its head. Marketing has stopped being a one-way bullhorn and now more akin to a two-way telephone. In Brand Zeitgeist, I talk about how customers now have partial control of the brand and are developing conversations about the brand online. Smart companies will help guide those customers in online spaces like Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Ameerah: What are some other trends in marketing affecting the way business owner tell their stories?

Chris: Marketers have abused their trust. People used to believe the information that advertisers told them. Now all marketing is treated with a skeptical eye. Marketers need to stop talking AT customers and start working WITH them.

Ameerah: What is the best way for people to find the book and how can they reach you directly?

Chris: The easiest way to find and get Brand Zeitgeist is probably through your favorite online retailer like Amazon.com or B&N.com. http://www.amazon.com/Brand-Zeitgeist-Relationships-Collective-Consciousness/dp/1450206794/ or http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Brand-Zeitgeist/Chris-Houchens/e/9781450206792/

It’s also available at independent booksellers and national chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble. You can always find me and more info at http://www.ShotgunConcepts.com

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