It’s generally understood that brand, as the term is now used, began in the twentieth century. Linguistically it has a long history, but as it applies to the stakeholder’s image of a business, it has a fairly short one. All its diverse origins and evolutions could be investigated, but it’s not necessary to go that deep into history to gain an effective understanding. Simple definitions are the most useful.
An academic would be disappointed without years of research and pages of references, but smart business demands only the essential elements be evaluated and applied. That’s the difference between people who like to talk about business and those who like doing business—theory vs. hands-on implementation. Often, it is also the difference between a useful consultant who has the track record to evolve your company and one that has an impressive-sounding theory about “how one might grow one’s business.” Use caution.
The short story about “brand” goes like this: As the mass-produced products from the industrial revolution came to market, it created an identity problem in the local store. The question arose: How does one differentiate a new, modern product (like a healing salve, for instance) from the local product everyone has trusted for years? The problem of communicating the unique value of any given product was born. Eventually this created an entirely new industry category that became part art and user was no longer the priority. In fact, belief in the strength of branding made us consider whether a quality product was even necessary. Even those of us who made a living by marketing and branding started to drink our own Kool-Aid. We no longer felt the need to actually tell the truth about the products or offerings, because the brand was the thing that people would buy. There was no need to obsess over the product; that was the old way of doing things. Now all we had to do was tell the potential buyer what to think through great branding. With enough really smart creativity, we would motivate the purchase.
The hard thing for me to admit is that it actually worked for a period of time. Most of the buyers jumped on the branding bandwagon and were genuinely influenced by the grand illusions presented by marketers.
What could fill that huge gap in logic?
Emotion. Our affluent culture offered us, as consumers, far too many decisions to make in a typical day. We were grateful for anything that could speed up any of those decisions, especially one that is emotionally charged.
It’s impossible to know all the reasons why our culture, at least for a time, fell prey to the egotistical message of the Brand. But I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that we evolved to a place where we had the affluence and leisure time to move higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, without the discipline to do so.
Here’s what I mean by that statement: We, as a culture, had been working really hard—toiled through the infancy of the industrial revolution and a couple of world wars—and then the fabulous time-saving, pre-packaged goods rolled into our homes and made our lives a breeze.
That’s the point at which we became lost in the pleasure of our reprieve and quickly forgot why we had worked so hard. We wanted a well-deserved break, a little time to bathe in our newly won luxury. We lost touch with the bigger goals and meaning of life. Without a more noble pursuit that humans naturally long for, we were left with stuff, experiences, and purchases that we then used to make us feel alive and important. In that context, an exciting brand illusion appeared to be just the thing we needed. Good branding could offer us the timesaving, pre-packaged replacement to a meaningful life. Thankfully, this shallow solution was not going to last forever.
So now, we come full circle. We, as a culture, have begun to awaken and realize that without a reason for being, we will end up in a lost, pointless existence. Now, everything has shifted. We want more—more than just “stuff” for the sake of having it. We want more than the emotional high of associating our personal worth with the brands we choose. We want less jargon and more for our money. We want to save the trees, save the planet, save the children, and educate the poor, and we want a product that does what it claims it will do. Or we’re out.
This is an exciting time for those who prefer telling the truth. It’s encouraging that we are all demanding more from the products and offerings we spend our money on. It restores a little faith in human nature. But it will also increase the demands on the business owners to pay attention to their customers.
We’ve developed a method to produce the candor required to build a great brand.
Are you ready? Check out this self-assessment and find out in just a few minutes: