Branding.

It’s elusive. Secretive. Powerful. All encompassing. Its the magic word in design and advertising. But what is it and how do I get it…

I have to say after 16 years of talking about, creating, designing and extending clients brands it really is amazing that there is not a more clear definition of what a brand is. The brands we all know Apple, Mini, Gucci are already, well, brands. They are cohesive. We can speak to them, about them, describe them in detail. How they did it, how they got there and where they are going.

Monday morning quarterbacking is one of my favorite Americanisms. In other countries its back seat driver perhaps. Americans are great at the monday morning review of what has already happened. In some cases they actually prefer the monday morning review to actually playing the game on sunday.

And boy is there a lot of monday morning discussion around branding.

So what is a brand?

A brand is the audience’s, target or otherwise, emotional response to the tangible things it encounters about any given company. Marketing materials, Website, People, Articles, Applications and news stories.

Simply put your brand is the sum of all of your companies parts.

So now for the hard truth… if your companies parts are in disarray, then your brand will reflect this to your audience. A brand begins with the CEO, head honcho, main guy… the man. And from there trickles down through your employees, your marketing materials, products and finally to your audience.

For many companies your audience may be a small group of people in the case of a local coffee shop for example. For a large bank your audience may number in the hundreds of thousands. Each member of that audience will have a mental image, or association to your company, or brand.

Say for instance you go to a restaurant and you have the worst meal of your life. You will remember that restaurant in that way. No matter how many other people tell you their experience was different, you are unlikely to want to return for another meal. This is the strongest brand experience. Physical interaction or experience.

A brand is essentially your feelings towards that person, thing or product. We use words like “I hate…” or “I adore…” to describe the things in life that we recognize as brands.

The local drunk

Now all companies, people and things have some level of a brand. The local drunk down the pub has a brand. Perhaps not a positive brand, but a brand non the less. Just in the same way that Pepsi has a brand for each of its products.

The problem with brands is that advertising companies are experts at the bullshit sell. That is they sell their services to companies using complete bullshit. Companies buy this bullshit and what we get is a never ending stream of ads selling us or telling us stuff we don’t care about.

Coke vs Pepsi has been a brand war for as long as I can remember. I say war but it is more like the WWI trench warfare where no one really wins. If you like Coke, you like Coke. If you like Pepsi, you like Pepsi. Done. No amount of celebrities can tell me different.

They say now that Coke owns Santa for crying out loud. And you know what we, the consumers, let it happen.

The truth

A brand is nothing secretive or formulaic. It is like the force. It surrounds and flows through all things from the consumer. Not from the product. It is how the consumer perceives the product and how they convey this feeling to other people. Either positive or negative.

So to all you companies, stop buying the bullshit. Because there is not a single celebrity in the world that can sell a Pepsi to a Coke drinker.

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