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REFM -  Adrian Photo Square - CATOBOver the years, I’ve developed a skepticism of brands, a healthy one I hope. And I would venture to say you have too. One ad after another, all making claims to be the best thing ever. Common sense tells us it can’t actually be — we all want to believe that particular cologne/perfume is going to make us instantly magnetic, but we know better. And then there’s one purchase after another; many don’t live up to the hype, some do, some do to begin with, but don’t last. Each of these experiences eats away at our ability to believe, to trust.

Brands can be so impersonal — marketing messages connect us to the brand, and humans become merely the means to get to the brand. Ads create a desire for Cheerios, and supermarkets and checkout registers are just a delivery mechanism to acquire Cheerios for ourselves. The quicker and easier, the better. Products, not humans, are the end. (Or perhaps more accurately, the emotional state promised by the products.)

But brands are real, right? I mean, after all, there’s Coca-Cola, Apple, Southwest, and Rolls Royce. They must truly exist. Or do they? Maybe they’re just made up. Maybe they only exist simply because we all agree they exist. Sorta like language — we all agree this scrawled shape on a piece of paper constitutes a letter, “d” we’ll call it. And we agree that it makes a particular, recognizable sound formed by our mouths and tongues. And when combined with the two other scrawled shapes “o” and “g,” signifies those panting, four-legged furry creatures in our homes.

Ahh. So maybe brands are really a conversation, and potentially, an agreement. One side makes a claim, and then the other side decides whether or not it’s true. But that means, then, you really can’t own a brand — it exists independently in the mind of each person who comes into contact with it, containing their particular judgements, their particular experiences. Perhaps the brand is really just a symbol, like that letter “d.” Brands are like a language that’s continuously being negotiated in the marketplace. The brand isn’t real. It’s just a proxy, a symbolic reduction of what’s actually real: the people on either side of the conversation, and their thoughts, experiences, aspirations, desires, and beliefs.

So what might any of this mean for how we could act in business? Some thoughts:

  1. View branding as an invitation to have a conversation, not as a message to beat into prospects’ psyche. And don’t forget that who we think we are can be different than what others see — listening is more important than talking.
  2. Care about the people, not the brand. Brands are just symbols, conversation starters if you will. It’s the people on either side of the table that are actually important.
  3. Think about what you really believe, and let that be communicated in your brand. Be it choice of logo, colors, words, marketing channels your message travels in, people, culture, operating hours, product mix, innovations, etc.
  4. Only promise what you can truly deliver. Emotions are powerful, and can be subconsciously tapped into. But they can be equally subconsciously damaged when promises never materialize.


This short video came out three years ago — see what you think about it in light of the above ideas.



Adrian G. Simmons is a CPA innovating ways to put money in its place. After working as an auditor out of college for KPMG, he joined his father in public practice in 2002, and now acts as the Chief Creative Designer there. With the team, he looks for ways to help their customers become financially strong, so that they can focus on what truly matters in life. Adrian likes tech, uses a fountain pen, successfully attempted a half-marathon (and may try another), and prefers dark over milk chocolate.

Marketing and Branding
  • On 03-02-2015 at 5:13 pm, Ron Baker said:

    Great topic and post, Adrian. Here’s a thought experiment: if everyone in the world got amnesia tomorrow, what would be the value of the world’s brands? It’s definitely a product of each person’s mind.

    • On 03-09-2015 at 4:32 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      Thanks Ron — and being intangible makes it no less valuable for sure. And long-term, I’m thinking its intangibility is really people relationship, rather than logo and marketing dollars.

  • On 03-02-2015 at 5:22 pm, chris F said:

    Deeper relationships Adrian. Lets put money aside for a minute. My sole goal for 2015 is to develop 12 deeper relationships with current and new customers. These relationship pay my soul. Its far more satisfying than paying the pocketbook. I understand my knowledge is worth something, but this feels great.

    • On 03-09-2015 at 4:33 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      Awesome point Chris! And I’m gonna suspect, that those really good relationships, will naturally lead to good business sense too. And you’ve got them in the right order. 🙂

  • On 03-02-2015 at 10:16 pm, Peter Wolf (Azamba) said:

    Any blog post that works a Fiona Apple song in gets my Like, +1, or whatever promotion your current favorite social media brand is pushing.

    • On 03-09-2015 at 4:34 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      Thanks Peter — great music taste! 😉

  • On 03-02-2015 at 10:50 pm, Peter Wolf (Azamba) said:

    Also, relevant to your post, here is a parody version of the original video.

    • On 03-09-2015 at 4:39 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      Yeah, I had seen that parody, which I think was extremely well done. And it perfectly illustrates the battle for what to believe and the resulting skepticism: all becomes competing claims. The only resolution I can see, is the reality of people’s experiences, and that they’re realistically presented: we do noone any favors by pretending the ideal is real life. But ideal is easier to communicate and what people “want” to believe and hear, while complexity is harder to communicate and what people should really be acclimatized to and looking for.

  • Jason Blumer

    On 03-03-2015 at 9:13 pm, Jason Blumer said:

    So good A! A brand is a conversation.

    • On 03-09-2015 at 4:39 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      Thx J! 🙂

  • On 03-03-2015 at 9:23 pm, Melinda Guillemette said:

    As usual, Adrian, great thinking here.

    Brand is similar to profit: it’s a result of other things, not a goal in itself. A brand is the result of the conversation you have with clients and prospects, and their interpretation of that conversation. The brand exists in their experiences and their words about those experiences.

    So when we talk about managing a brand, we’re really talking about managing behavior in hopes of getting a desired result.

    • On 03-09-2015 at 4:42 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      Thanks Melinda, and great analogy: a brand, like profit, is a by-product of other things, reached indirectly. Let’s all converse away in the open markets and hold a dialogue we can be proud of! 🙂


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