Hugh at Gaping Void lists a number of reasons why he believes that branding is dead. I'm in agreement with a lot of what he says... I wrote about my own concerns about branding here and here and here. But as I like to say, "branding is dead; long live the brand!"
Yes, branding as its been defined (in terms of logos and tag lines) is dead. But I have yet to find a better word to summarize the idea that is formed in the minds of customers about a particular company. That idea is created by what a company says (marketing) and does (operations). Some companies have done a brilliant job in creating a consistent, powerful idea in people's minds; Apple remains my favorite brand despite its mistakes. Other companies have failed to identify how they can stand out from the pack in a meaningful way; as a result there are no mental associations -- no ideas -- created in customers' minds... and therefore no brand.
Perhaps we can use the word "reputation;" it comes the closest. Or perhaps we -- the people who are trying to kill the concept of branding as it's now known -- can bring about branding's resurrection as a more strategic, more powerful, more effective tool for business leaders. We can't just announce that branding is dead without filling the void. We can either propose a new word and leave 'brand' to the logo designers, or we can reframe the word with new meaning. In other words, we can re-brand branding. There's a contingent of forward thinkers who already driving the change: people like Johnnie Moore and the other Beyond Branding authors, fouro, Nick Wreden, Hugh McLeod and too many others to mention. As with any rebranding effort, it will take time to shift people's ideas and perceptions about branding. But hey, if a bunch of branding experts can't do it, who can? Seems like a pretty good challenge to me.