Let’s get it right, your brand & “your brand” aren’t the same

19750840_ce169b72a6_m.jpgBefore we go on to discuss “advanced storytelling” among other things, I would like to make something clear:
Your brand in not “your brand”.

To some of you this may seem as stating the obvious, but as my years in marketing go by, again and again I find this confusion at the centre of many branding projects. Quite often, the same team in the same room will talk about two different things.

The brand is not “The brand”
It’s a simple distinction. Once made, you don’t need to repeat it, just reiterate it in confusing moments.
(By all means – don’t signal quotes with your fingers. At least not more then once, then apologise profusely.)

The brand
Your actual brand is formed and lives in the minds of people who come across it (when and if they remember it). They can be customers, staff or shareholders. The important part to remember is that you don’t own it or control it. It is in their minds. It lives there as a collection of associations about your company, your product, your employees, your adverts or any other aspect of the experience and the way you communicate.
With time, it becomes a short-hand/”macro like” abstraction to all those things, and ultimately to who you are and what you stand for.
(Yes, there are other, numerous definitions of what a brand is. When I taught a course in MarCom last year, one of the first slides about branding had no less then 7 definition types. This is the direction I prefer because it is the most communication oriented and it’s centred on people rather than companies. That’s probably why it’s the dominant concept across companies, agencies and the academy, even if they use different names for it.)

This “mental image” approach immediately simplifies and cuts down to size some over-hyped terms:
Brand strategy is a long term plan to achieve an intended focus in the association network
Brand identity is a collection of sensory devices designed to evoke the intended associations.
Brand management creates planned actions to intentionally attempt and influence the association network

Notice that all those are just attempts at influencing. Forever mediated, never directly touching that brand everyone’s so eager to put their hands on.
For example, your mark (logo), which is designed to evoke “the brand”, actually evokes the brand first (=the mental abstraction), maybe creating an opportunity to influence it in the right context.

“The brand”
This is how you envision it. What you want to stand for, what you want to mean. It’s your intentions, ambitions, aspirations. Articulate a strategy, use values, build stories, create a graphic design, strive for a positioning… Whatever action you do, whatever methodology or theory you choose, just remember that this remains an intention, an articulation, a message. It is not your brand, it’s what you want it to become.

To summarise:
“The Brand” [our intentions, plan, and communications] is not The Brand [that abstract “thing” in the minds of our audience]

An important marketing goal is to bring the two together as closely as possible over time.
Defining and communicating “The brand” in a way that influences minds can be extremely challenging. Even then, what people think is stronger that any effort you may make, and so you should try and use what you stand for now, as you try to convince them.

It’s not about branding, it’s about meaning.
Otherwise you’re just making things (look, sound or maybe even feel) pretty.

I had to get that off the table, just to make sure we communicate. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Let’s get it right, your brand & “your brand” aren’t the same

  1. Uri,

    Its been quite a long time since i’ve read a post about “branding”. For some reasons I had the feeling that the branding discourse is something of the past…just a few examples:

    http://occultdesign.blogspot.com/2005/09/brand-is-dead.html
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.11/brands.html?tw=wn_tophead_5
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/themes/brand.html

    One point i want to make in relation to “It’s not about branding, it’s about meaning”.

    The brand does not exist in the minds of people – the meaning of a brand exist in the communicative spaces between people, media, stakeholders, marketing comms, touch points etc.

    What i’m trying to say is that meaning is dialogical and relational and is constructed BETWEEN people as they talk to each other, read the papers (or blogs) and in the various touch points where they actually interact with the brand whatever it is.

    In times of cause/narrative/new/conversational(pick up your buzz word..) marketing, a brand is supposed to stand for something…..so stand for something already!

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  2. Good points Asi, although a little out of the scope of this post I hope to address them with time. At the moment:
    a. yes, I’m familiar with the brands/branding are/is dead meme, and had i blogged when this discussion was on, I’d probably answer something similar to what Jennifer Rice said at the time.
    http://brand.blogs.com/mantra/2004/11/rebranding_the_.html

    Branding as what it grew to be became too focused on dressing up intentions and ambitions, and too little on authentic communication with the market (too focused on “the brand”). there are other comments on the articles, but for time being I’ll just say the concept of the brand is still incredibly useful to describe the “short-hand in the mind of the customer”.

    b. I partially disagree with your second point. At least where I come from, while meaning can be created in the places you mention, it “exists” when there is an interpreting mind giving it meaning. Yes, there are various dialectical spaces contributing to the process, but it’s helpful to boil it down to a simpler level before we bring them into consideration. (i believe we had a narratologist vs. anthropologist moment there 🙂 )

    c. I do agree with the general sentiment, and believe this post actually points in that direction – When a company realises that its branding efforts are just defining an intention, an ambition, a communication of their side of the conversation, it then forces them to see what the other side of the dialogue perceives and communicates back.
    Only then they can truly start thinking about bi-directional communications.
    And yes, all companies need to “stand for something already!!!!1!!1!”, and so do individuals in the work-marketplace, but to me that just emphasises a bigger need for focused and meticulous planning, designing, plotting, architecture… and all those other words that signify the marriage of form & meaning.

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