Mar 20, 2005

Bland, er, I mean brand essence

Brand Guy: “What we need to is increase traction by focusing on the authentic core brand equities and brand essence.
Me (to myself): “In other words, we need to clear and honest about what we can do for people.”

I work as a copywriter in the in-house communications department for a Fortune 500 company. The quote above comes from a large group meeting I attended last week. (It’s an amalgamation of many terms thrown about.) I’ve heard that type of brand jibber jabber above for years. I know what it means, but man, am I tired of hearing it.

What struck me, as I sat in my comfortable chair trading notes with my account partner, is how as we babble on about brands, we become more and more distanced from what a “brand” is supposed to be and do. (And these days, that’s totally up for grabs.)

We call research firms, futz with colors, change messages, hire new agencies--and still remain separated from the very people we’re hoping to reach. Basically, we lose sight of ourselves and our customers.

By treating the brand as a construct we become dishonest, and worse, we treat the people we hope will buy our stuff as constructs, too. (Hamish at Cardboard Spaceship has a great post that talks about this subject.)

It’s like when you meet a person for the first time, and taking in their initial rap and exterior appearance, you form an initial opinion, one that you feel is honest. A few weeks or months later, you understand it was a sham, and that they were basically lying to you the whole time. And them you cut them off.

Realizing this, companies are desperately trying to find “authentic voice of their brand”. That’s funny and sad to me. Like trying to find out who you really are—just take an honest look at your actions and beliefs, it’s right in front of your face, you know?

(Evelyn Rodriquez has very interesting views about this, as does the ever-humorous Hugh MacLeod.)

So instead of worrying so much about their brands, I think companies can help themselves by thinking deeply about themselves instead. They can cut through the layer of expensive, dubiously effect crap that represents their logo, tagline and colors. Get to the heart of the matter, the real, simple and clear “great thing” they bring to their customers.

Maybe it’s time to just dump the damn brand altogether for a while, and treat our companies like the very thing they’re composed of--human beings--and talk about them as such.

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