Brand: Who Art Thou?

Don Draper had it easy. He didn’t have to worry about brand. It was all about one-way marketing and advertising. Pitch a big idea and then unveil some creative the client likes. Cool creative.

Those were the days.

The Brand is the most valuable asset a corporation owns. Strong brands are incredibly powerful. But I can’t possibly be the first “branding guy” who has concluded that our pal Brand needs a rebrand.

Here in Washington, D.C., the political operatives have strange phrases. If you watch the Netflix show “House of Cards,” you would recognize remarks such as, “Mistakes were made,” or “Things have acquired a stench.” I feel like they’re describing Brand.

What’s the problem? For 20 years branding professionals have been explaining what Brand is not. They’re chest-high in research, nuance and jargon.

A conversation about our friend Brand can sound distant, untouchable and elitist. That’s because the concepts, meaning and words behind Brand are intangible. For instance, the brand vision – just one of eight elements of a brand strategy – articulates a better world that is always worth striving for, but mostly unattainable.

And when people are making decisions (e.g. signing checks) on strategy, they prefer tangible things. Most companies create and market things. They want an answer to, “What do we get?”

No wonder clients can’t figure it out. And as a result, the top corporate leaders who actually need to make important decisions about business direction – and then of course the accompanying brand strategy – end up ignoring big questions:

  • How are you going to tweak – or turn upside down – your organization to earn a strong brand?
  • What are you going to do with your shiny new logo, besides putting it on the side of the building? The logo by itself isn’t going to prevent you from losing valuable customers.
  • What are you doing to manage your culture? As Simon Sinek  would say, you can’t expect customers to love your company until the employees love the company.


Think about it. If today’s Brand where a car, what would it be – a minivan? If it were a beverage, it would be soda water. If an animal, maybe a hedgehog – or dare we say a platypus? Brand evokes mostly vague and uninteresting stuff.

It’s time for our industry to rethink some terminology. Then perhaps we might stop explaining that Brand isn’t a logo or tagline or new website or fashionable carpet colors or advertising or other things.

What do you think? Can we find a new vernacular that resonates? Can we save our old pal Brand?

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