A few common statements about branding:
Brands are the messengers of trust
Are they? What does this mean? How is it that the same brand can be trusted by some and not by others? Examples: all brands belonging to businesses that avoid paying their fair share of UK taxes and/or that treat their workers (in the UK and elsewhere) poorly, as Amazon allegedly does.
A brand is the essence of a product, service or concept
No they’re not. The whole point of a brand is its applicability over the whole range of a business’s offerings and activities and its ability to be used to predict what future products, services or concepts might be like.
Surely, it is precisely the other way around: “An organisation’s product, service or concept contains (the essence of) the organisation’s brand”.
It might be that “A brand represents the common factors of an organisation’s products, services and concepts [and, I would add, behaviours]”, but it is the representation that is the key. Just because something represents something else doesn’t make the two things the same thing. The brand can’t be the essence. And, because a brand is intrinsically long term in both range and time, it cannot include characteristics of individual products, which may be fleeting and/or localised.
For example, when I see the BP sign at a fuel station, I think fuel retail (operated by franchisees). I don’t think shipping, asphalt or the restoration of the gulf of Mexico, all of which are activities in which BP is currently engaged. There is no overlap between these services at all, and therefore no way that BP could point to generic attributes of their brand more than wholly bland and high level ones. Arguably, this is true of all global corporates (eg HP and HSBC).
The irony is that, any attempt to identify a common ethos shared by all an organisation’s products and services just results in the common ethos being neutralised out of existence because the products and services do not actually share any attributes which can be corralled into this common ethos.
Like the Cheshire cat in Alice, all that is left is a smirk, that of the organisation which believes its brand has any real meaning in this sense in the real world. It would be better to focus on the ideas and emotions the sight of a brand symbol brings up in the viewer.
A brand comes alive by taking a physical form through its identity
If a brand comes alive at all, it comes alive through the experience of the organisation’s ethos by those it touches. It comes alive when it becomes interpersonal. For example, John Lewis to me is about the service I get in its stores. It has nothing to do with the, frankly, ugly typeface the logo is couched in, the diagonal lines (which I don’t get), the ubiquitous unattractive dark green or the name (which is, in itself, meaningless in a retail context). The unarguable success of this business has probably come about despite its visual identity, not because of it.
A brand is the essence that creates an emotional and psychological relationship with the customer
Don’t buy that either. Apart from asking precisely what part of an emotional relationship isn’t psychological (so the words “emotional and” are redundant), this statement misunderstands what a relationship is:
1 People cannot form relationships with intellectual concepts (eg, an “essence”). They form relationships with people and other animate objects like dogs. In casual speech, one might say one has a relationship with an inanimate object, such as one’s car, but it isn’t a relationship, it’s an attitude. An essence isn’t even an inanimate object—it’s an idea, a concept.
2 In any case, it is the brand, not the essence, with which people might have a relationship, not the essence, if they could a relationship with it at all.
3 Brands must stay consistent for a reasonably long period of time if they are to become recognised as brands (see your own examples under “the brand logo”). By definition, they are not responsive to the organisation’s customers. On the contrary, they seek to impose the organisation on the customer, in a “take it or leave it” approach whose only merit, if it is a merit, is that it tries to be as accommodating to as many people as possible.
4 As ever, it is informative to read Joel Bakan’s book, The corporation. In it, he says, “The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others”. The corporation’s brand is a primary weapon in realising that mandate.
5 What brands do is seek to foster beliefs and feelings in people about the activities of the brand’s owner (I assume that’s what you mean by “relationship”). But I am free to develop my beliefs and feelings independently of the intentions of the brand. For example, whatever McDonalds would like, my overwhelming association with this brand is of unpleasant junk food that is bad for your health consumed in unpleasant surroundings. Those “golden arches” make a very effective “keep away “ sign.
Is there a point?
The problem with branding is that it is intrinsically tendentious and ephemeral. I think branding agencies would be better off admitting that and adopting a position of, “OK chaps, we know there is a lot you can argue about in branding, and very little truth, but it does have its uses, so…”, rather than attempt to load the subject with a rationality which it is wholly incapable of bearing.
by Jeremy Marchant / edited 2 december 14 / image Pixabay