“Some sceptics say that if your product or business is good enough, you don’t need branding. Then charismatic marketers jump in to tell them why they’re wrong. But to me there is no choice — if you exist, then you have a brand.”
I borrowed Shakespeare’s soliloquy as I believe that branding is purely existential. Hamlet thinks about life and death. Maybe a little dramatic for an article about branding but Hamlet wonders whether it might be preferable to end one’s suffering and to leave behind the pain associated with living. Well, this reminded me of many of our client’s dilemmas. Shall we brand or shall we not brand?
If you are in the market, then you exist; if you exist, then you have a brand. There is no choice. In other words, if you want to stop having a brand then you need to stop existing; “To be or not to be”.
From the first conversation, the first transaction, as good or as bad as that may be, you are building a brand. Up until the last transaction or the disappearance of your business.
The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s premise that “existence precedes essence” hits the mark in that we are as we exist, not as we or others would label us. As for new-brand creation, brands exist first before their true essence can be realised, displayed or perceived. In other words, it is the choices that your business makes and the daily actions it takes that bring life to the brand promise, this is what makes for an “authentic” experience.
In May 2002, the two main banks of Andorra merged and Andbanc was formed. In the re-branding exercise the brand strategy process was focused primarily on the customer experience that this new bank wanted to offer. They reduced duplications, simplified processes and analysed customer satisfaction. As a result, they had already streamlined all of the processes before they even started talking about colours, logo and naming. This simplification and love for growth were achieved at an administration level, and this was reflected in the brand identity with a red diagonal line that doesn’t have a beginning or an end. This reflected how the business operates, its culture, personality and attitude.
A completely different example. There is a well-known brand that says very little about itself, it just does stuff it likes or believes in, then lets the audience join the dots. I’m talking about Red Bull. While most beverage companies populate their logos in every corner of the room, on beer mats, door mats, umbrellas, tables, signage… Red Bull takes a different approach. They invest the money to make things happen. They make themselves present, they don’t shout, but they are always there, at a wide range of events. We don’t really know that much about Red Bull based on what they say about themselves… “Redbull gives you wings”. But we know all about them based on what they do because they do their own thing in a world where their competitors are all fighting to get onto the same stage. Red Bull refuses to be defined by the abstract market segmentation in drinks. They’re brave and different, not because they say it, but because they do it.
The existential journey is there to discover and reveal our true selves and our reason for being — and the ongoing work it takes to act authentically to have our essence reflect our intent. For brand specialists and the brands we create, we have to constantly ask ourselves: Why do we exist? Why are we here? What purpose do we serve? For our customers, we must constantly ensure that their experiences are positively affected as a direct result of their interactions with the company and with the brand.
While it may be obvious, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that customers are at the centre and that they must be the starting point of our planning. The perception they have about your brand will define your company at an existential level, whether that’s positive or negative.
So, in summary, there is no such thing as ‘not branding’. You might intentionally create a well-designed brand that reflects who you really are, or you might just leave it to chance.