What is Brand?

Nestle Kitkat chocolatory

Ask 10 different people and the answers will generally fall into these two camps:

  • Brand are logos, fonts, and colors.
  • Brand is something about connecting with ideal customers through story.

In either of these two categories of response, Brand is ultimately a corporate exercise intended to drive financial performance through the capture of new market share or the retention of existing customers.

None of this is wrong. It’s all…fine.

It’s just so uninspiring and I find myself pondering a profoundly important question: “so, what?” We have an opportunity to evolve what Brand means and, perhaps, our best method of doing that is through future-hindset.

Brand is Marketing

The commonly understood purpose of Brand is, first and foremost, to inform marketing communications. It starts with customer research, competitive analysis, and far too much “wordsmithing.”

People often refer to me as a Brand Marketer. I’m usually quick to politely correct them because that is not exactly accurate. To me, Brand is something bigger. Brand Marketing is just a tiny fraction of the potential of what a Brand could be.

When I do Brand work with clients, I don’t start with the customer, I don’t talk about revenue, and I don’t quite care about the competition.

I start with existentialism.

  • WHY…do you exist?
  • WHAT…do you actually care about?
  • WHO…do you have to become to make this a reality?

Brand isn’t just about what you say or look like, it’s about what you are. It’s a state of being that is continually in pursuit of actualization. This is one of the key reasons why I don’t believe in the trend of “woke Brands” because, ultimately, they are only really “woke” because they see it as a strategic decision to drive revenue.

We do not follow Brands because they preselected us and then crafted the story we need to hear in order to buy more stuff. That is purely a story designed to appeal to the audience known as “consumers.” But we’re more than the social and economic construct called consumer, we’re humans. We are co-passengers on spaceship Earth, spiraling through an endless universe, alone, together. All we have is this home. All we have is right now and the hope for brighter tomorrows. All we have is each other.

We have far important things to deal with than production and consumption, and we need Brands to play their part.

Brand is Leadership

We need more Brands that truly believe in something and stand for it. Our companies must start to think bigger than money, and instead focus on impact. This is the next evolution of Brand.

We do not need campaigns that shift with the political climate. We do not need decisions brought about by focus group testing our preferences. We don’t need brands who take a stance because it will drive revenue but rather who take a stand because they believe something to be right.

Doing what’s right isn’t business, it’s personal. Brand Leadership is about changing how the story is created. It’s about picking a destination in the future and inviting others to be a part of the journey.

man on grass field looking at sky

This is future-hindsight brand strategy.

  1. Think of the problems that we need to solve right now.
  2. Think of the world in 10-years.
  3. Determine if you’re part of a problem or part of a solution.
  4. Make your Brand part of the solution.

I acknowledge that there are schools of thought that suggest that a Brand should not weigh in on a political or societal issue in the same way that the Federal Reserve recently said that it does not seek to set climate policy. This is the fiscally-consumed, business-first perspective on Brand. But, I remain curious to know what currency we will use in a world torn apart by climate change and biodiversity collapse, drought and famine, and societal unrest? Will we still watch Jim Cramer scream at us in the morning about whether or not to buy or sell Exxon? Will the 2027 robot-labor replacement give us more freedom or more poverty? Will we all just think about how much more we could’ve done when we had the chance?

Your Brand is Your Mission

The greatest brands will pick their mission at the start, long before they find their market. They will build their companies from the beginning to support that mission. Their investors will be onboard from the start, their leadership team will be aligned with its purpose, and they will be uncompromising on their principles. They will attract the customers, employees, and investors who share in the vision and desire for change.

I have sat through too many meaningless marketing meeting trying to collectively figure out how to sell a few more whatevers. It’s time we stepped up to the challenges of our time.

Even if you are a small business or solopreneur, you have the opportunity to build your Brand around something that you care deeply about. Not only do you have my permission, you have my encouragement to do something more meaningful with your business or your career.

Your Brand, is your platform, and you can choose to see that platform as an opportunity to make a contribution toward a safer, kinder, and more equitable world, or you can ignore this call to adventure and just try to sell some more whatevers.

Before you decide, do the future hindsight exercise:

Imagine yourself 10 years into the future looking back at today, and ask yourself whether you would regret not having done more?

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