"Perhaps our motivation to brand, and to be branded, comes from our hardwired instinct to connect."
Imagine how fun it would be to be a fly on the wall at a dinner party with Dan Pink, Tom Peters, Karim Rashid, Seth Godin, Brian Collins and Malcolm Gladwell. Those are just 6 of 22 of the world’s leading brand thinkers that Debbie Millman interviewed for Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. Even better? You don’t have to cook for or clean up from this party. She’s done all the work and you get to just enjoy the conversation. She poses the question “What is a brand?” to these brilliant thinkers. If you are looking for straightforward answers, you won’t find them here. If, however, you are looking for thought provoking ideas to answer your questions of whether you have or need a brand and how to create one, pick up her book. She pulls together their answers for us to enjoy the differences, similarities and off-the-cuff debates right along with her. You will love the meandering discussions and thought provoking ideas.
Connectedness and identity
"It’s a basic truth that human beings crave connection to one another, and to the world. When brands can give us that… it’s a positive thing."
What does successful branding do? Joe Duffy, Chairman of Duffy and Partners says it makes “someone feel that they’ve made the right choice, that they are better for it, and that their life is going to be better as a result.”
How do we achieve that? He says that “understanding the audience of any brand is absolutely critical.” Once a brand is honest about who it’s right for and why, it becomes much easier to encourage mutuality with an audience.
People will choose a brand because it relates to them. The brand becomes a badge; a statement about who we are. It’s how we express our individuality and how we connect with others who are similar to us.
David Butler, the VP of Design at Coca-Cola says “I think people love brands that play a critical role in their lives or that help them form their identity.” And he’s a good person to ask. Coca-Cola has three thousand products and five hundred brands. A quarter of the Earth’s population drinks something from their company every day!
I bet you feel that Coke is the “national brand” in your country. But guess what? Every country feels it is their national brand; from Africa to India people everywhere consider it their favorite national brand. Fascinating. How did they do that? They call it: “freedom within a framework.” They came up with an idea and then scaled it. Coke stands for connection and optimism. But how that is manifested varies from culture to culture. They tailor and customize the idea of connection and optimism for each local market.
Margaret Youngblood, Principal at Trinity Brand Group, says that brands become a “shorthand for who you are, what you’re like and what you value”.
Stories, Mythology and brands – who’d have thought?
"The best brands embody mythic archetypes. They literally are stories."
So, what is a brand? Cheryl Swanson, President and Founding Principal of Toniq says that “a brand is a product with a compelling story.” She says it offers quintessential qualities for which the consumer believes there is absolutely no substitute. She describes three pillars necessary to build a brand: functional, sensorial experiential and emotional. Which one do you think transforms a product into a true brand? It’s the emotional pillar that adds the compelling story. This creates the bond that convinces consumers there is no substitute for it.
What is your story? What do you stand for? We don’t experience the world through facts and figures, we experience it through story. A brand is your story. It gives meaning to what you do. Share it.
In her interview with Brian Collins, he says that the best brands are not just stories, they embody mythic archetypes. His first example is Nike. Nike is the goddess of victory. Greek warriors went to the temple and made a sacrifice to Nike before they went to battle. They asked her for victory. She was about winning and achievement. Nike the brand has done a remarkable job of bringing that story to life. He describes watching kids play pick-up basketball one day. The next day, Nike had a basketball clinic in the same location. When the swoosh went up, so too did the energy and emotional charge of those kids. They were now calling upon the powers of the goddess! Without even knowing the origin of the word Nike, we know that it stands for winning and achievement and just doing it!
His second example is Apple. Now I’ve heard Apple used in many examples but I have never heard this one. He describes Eve (as in ‘Adam and’) as the seductress. He said that Eve took a bite out of the apple to say “I am conscious,” and Steve Jobs used an apple with a bite taken out of it as his company’s logo to say “I will give you consciousness that Microsoft and IBM will not give you. And in order to do that, I am going to seduce you. My products are seductive… they are sexy… come and play with me.”
He explains that, of course you can’t tell someone you’re sexy or cool, you simply have to be. But you can talk about being a rebel. And he says that story is the power of Apple.
Feeling good and doing good – a powerful combination
"More and more people are making decisions on what a company gives back."
Businesses mistakenly think they make money but that is the outcome of making something else. Consumers want to know, what is it? They want to know your relationship to the local economy. They want to know how you’re contributing in a larger way to the world. More and more people are making decisions based on what a company gives back. And this has become more important than consideration of the return on shareholder investment.
The main idea of purpose-driven brands is that they go beyond simply what their products do; they give their customers a chance to do good in the world.
To summarize what a brand is, let’s end with a puzzle:
What is something that is a ubiquitous part of our culture that you can:
• interact with everyday
• use to help you feel connected to others
but you can’t
• extract it from the earth, manufacture it, grow it or even download it?
• leave it someplace or take it with you.
That something you’re left with is… an idea. And that may be the best summary of what a brand is.
What is your idea?