Friday, May 06, 2016

Has Branding Become Too Complicated?

There are as many opinions of what is a brand as there are people who have them. I know I have my own opinions. However, it's not to say that all the different ideas are wrong or conflicting. I would say that most are saying something similar.

For instance, some of the more popular opinions state:
  1. A brand is a promise
  2. It's what your customers think about you
  3. It's your reputation
On the other hand, some people see branding as:
  1. A logo
  2. Colors that are used consistently
  3. The company name

All these ideas carry something in common

These ideas are trying to describe what makes a business or any entity unique. They try to simplify an issue that can be complex. But, how complex is it really?

Many marketing, branding, and design firms go into great detail about the impact a brand can have on its customers. They seek, through research and best practices, to arrive at a visual and operational solution which a business can use to solidify and communicate their brand effectively. I know, because I do this myself.

The idea of branding can be traced to as early as ancient Egypt. It is believed that Egyptians would brand their livestock to distinguish ownership. In the old American West, this was popularized in the branding of cattle. Different brand shapes and symbols were used to distinguish one's herd of cattle from another. In many ways, each rancher wanted their insignia to stand out from other ranchers'.

Our modern idea of brand came from this history

In a simple way, we apply branding to distinguish ownership and uniqueness. In other words:
  1. Brands differentiate from one another
  2. Brands communicate uniqueness
  3. Brands convey clarity of ownership
  4. Brands are visible marks
However, today we have moved away from the brand as a representation of an entity (like a logo, and its identity system) which, when applied, distinguishes it from others. Rather, we embrace the idea that a brand helps control the overall experience customers have with the entity.

I think this addition is often necessary. We need to be clear about the impact a company has on their brand when it does or doesn't live up to their customer's expectations. And no amount of great design can overcome that.

But, on the other hand, I'm not so sure we properly accept that branding has real limits. No matter how complex the process, it cannot control consumer thoughts and behavior. There are things we can do to have an influence. But, not control. Nor should we desire control.

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