A personal movement to ban the brand.

05Apr10

I feel about the word “branding” the same way I feel about leather pants. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, it’s just that too many of the wrong people wear them. It’s the same, for me, with the word brand – ruined because too many of the wrong people use it – and for the wrong reasons. This is not as glib as it might sound.

A corporate “Brand” has come to mean a vessel to hold whatever good will has accrued from the past. It has value because of the equity that a company has stored in it –- hard-won respect and loyalty. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s just that it’s about the past, and while “branding experts” will tell you that it has great relevance and potency for future success, that’s simply not as true as it once was.

There was a point, (in the late 80s) when advertising lost its supreme hold on clients’ marketing budgets, that brand became a verb, and everybody jumped on the branding bandwagon. Advertising agencies “diversified”, adding design services first, then digital services, packaging, direct marketing and whatever else they could think of. Design firms, that had one day been offering corporate identity services, or graphic design or packaging, the next day become “Brand Consultants”. Check out the history of Peter Arnell’s company names if you’d like a real example. For all these folks, calling themselves branding experts was intended to help them eat higher on the corporate food chain. Laurel Cutler, the renowned researcher, declared in the mid-90s that “A brand is everything you say and do, and how you say and do it.”  The problem is, of course that when it became everything, it became not so much.

“Brand” and “branding” are now markers of the past – of the old industrial model of corporate hegemony – the antithesis of collaboration, open system, community based models that we need to foster in order to survive. They are fixed and archaic. People who still describe what they do in these words demonstrate their world view in ways they don’t yet know.

I used the word – wrote about it and consulted on it. I got caught up in it and used it despite the fact that it always felt like one of those made-up creepy expressions I detest (like guesstimate).I was afraid I couldn’t make a living if I didn’t put myself in that bucket – that clients wouldn’t know why to hire me.

But I find now that clients are ready to think about the extraordinary potential of using communication like nature does, in a systemic way, to energize all communities – local, global, corporate and citizens – to co-create a new model for how to live and how to do business.

Phwew. That felt great. So great, in fact, that I am hereby committing never to use the “B” word again.

In DV, Diana Vreeland’s delightful memoir, she begins by speaking to George Plimpton, her editor, and says, “Now whatever you do, George, don’t let me repeat myself.” Which of course he does, and she does, throughout the book. So I am asking you, like Diana asked George, to call me out if you hear me use that word.

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2 Responses to “A personal movement to ban the brand.”

  1. The becoming everything makes branding not so much is a concept with legs–and to many places to walk/run.

    I often use the phrase social brand equity to describe the positive outcomes when a company scales an innovative social enterprise to solve a problem that is core to their business.

    Before joining your movement I experimented with social communication equity and social responsibility equity and must say they left me a bit cold. I’m open to suggestions. However, when everyone is using the word and you want to present the counter concept–I find that you need the word to do so, at least so far.

  2. I could not agree with you more. bravo!


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