Over 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.