Ancient Cattle Brands

Did the shoe fit? What about the brand?
4 in a series… Been there, done that.

Is your business on brand or off brand? Does it have a brand? And in fact, what is a brand and what does it do?

The gurus beckon and taunt with these questions. If they seem redundant, annoying or rhetorical, move on. If they create an itch, scratch the surface. You might find answers you didn’t expect that light a match that sets a fire you can fan.

The word brand was originally the Old Norse word for ‘to burn’ and later, the Old English term for ‘mark’.  It eventually came to mean the searing application of pneumonic devices on the skins of domesticated animals to physically make their ownership visible. To do that effectively the brand’s iron stamp and embossed impression on the livestock had to be distinctive, unique and immediately recognizable by the buyers and the competition.

Brand in marketing is a metaphor for creating a mark on, an impression of a product or service. That the term is thrown around like so many buzz words (another metaphor) about marketing is maybe why it’s so fuzzy to many and used so ubiquitously without clarity. Is it a logo, is it a catchy phrase, is it the song, or the image?

Yes, yes, yes and yes – but no. It’s all of those components integrated together – and more, much more.

The simplest, clearest definition of brand is: everything a person thinks and feels about a product or service. Key words – everything – thinks – feels.

Note that it is everything, not some things or these or those particular things about your business, but the whole kit.

Note the present tense. It’s not what anyone thought or felt before about your product, that’s history and changes. It’s not what anyone will think or feel next, that’s still negotiable. It’s what’s happening to your customer here and now, in the moment, spontaneously, immediately, organically, fleetingly, repeatedly in the next moment and the next. The experience of brand is a moveable feast or flop.

‘Everything’ is a big concept, but it’s easy to define when you look at your own personal experience and expand on it. You want to buy a pair of shoes. You start looking, most likely online. You see shoes, hear words and sounds about shoes and read details about shoes that make you begin thinking about what it is you want and about the choices  – lots of choices.  Part of that process involves subliminal, instantaneous emotional experience with content: images, shapes, colour, movement, music and ideas wafting over you.

You’re flipping through a magazine in the dentist’s office, driving past a billboard on the way to work, listening to news, weather and traffic, watching your favourite series after dinner, soaking in social media before bed and thinking about shoes and seeing shoes all over the place and are eventually driven into a store (before and soon) and are touching, feeling and, yes, smelling shoes and talking to the salesperson and immersed in the atmosphere there. And when you can’t walk in and try new shoes on (like now), you’re back online or on the phone and trying shoes on in your mind until there is a fit and you commit.

Think about all the conscious and unconscious interactions you had or can imagine you had on this quest. Did the company’s logo mean anything, did you feel drawn to it? Did you think that models you saw wearing the shoes looked sexy, smart, sensible? Did the entrance to the store feel welcoming; was it warm and toasty in winter or cooler and refreshing, in summer? Was the interior layout a maze? Did you think the salesperson was interested; did their style of clothing make you flinch; was the tone of their voice pleasing? What music was playing as you walked out with your purchase? Did the follow-up messaging from customer service feel annoying; did you appreciate the discount offered with a next purchase? How did the shoes feel, look and make you feel when you took them for a walk? Did anybody notice and, if they did, did you recommend the brand and store?

That’s shoes – expand on that experience with shopping for the vaccine, looking for a new home, buying toilet paper, shopping for a partner. Every time, every step, there are brand elements at work on you. The amalgam of all those influences and experiences is the mark left on you by the company, the total impression that’s seared into your decision-making brain – or not.

And it’s the same for your customers, branding after branding. Sale or not.

Stop overthinking branding. Remember it’s simple:  Everything a person thinks and feels about a product or service.

Find out what they want and how they want it. Integrate the right messages and the right media. Then, just fire up that brand and let the sparks fly.

Eric Doubt

Eric Doubt

Project Management, Creative Direction

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