August 18, 2005
News & Opinion: Abraham Isaac Kook on truth
What, exactly, is a brand? Ask ten seasoned business professionals that one, simple question and you're likely to receive ten different answers. The concept of brand (and branding) is either the most vague and confusing one in business today, or it is conveniently misinterpreted to fit each marketer's agenda and expertise. Take your pick.
The true tests of a business definition or concept are logical consistency, agreement with experience, and economy of explanation. Given that people exchange their hard earned money for "brands," in many cases paying a premium for them over competitive alternatives, a brand is obviously more than a logo, trademark, or tagline.
"Concepts, like individuals, have their histories and are just as incapable of withstanding the ravages of times as are individuals." - Kierkegaard
Why does a Google search of the word "branding" return close to 14 million results? Why is there a web site dedicated to "developing a common definition of the term 'branding?'" Simple. The concept has not survived the ravages of time.
In one of his excellent On Language articles, NY Times columnist William Safire jumped onto the brandwagon. He referred to the word "brand" as "the hot word in the field of sales - indeed, pervading the world of perfect pitching." He also wrote:
David Ogilvy, the advertising executive, was dubbed by the author Martin Mayer in 1958 as an "apostle of the 'brand image"' who sought to persuade the consumer that brand A, technically identical with brand B, is somehow a better product.
And there you have it. The 1950's concept of branding, which most people are still stuck on - and stuck in - today. Branding = Manipulating minds through modern marketing. Right?
In my new book I refer to branding as "today's most powerful business concept." Why? Because I believe that the proliferation of products and services requires more and better mind control? Hardly. Rather it's because said glut of options and information requires a new way of looking at how and why people make marketplace decisions. After all, for a brand to exist in any practical way it must eventually be chosen.
In The Practice of Management, Peter Drucker wrote, "Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two - and only these two - basic functions: marketing and innovation." The execution of those two functions is what I'll be referring to as "branding." The effect - in the mind of the customer - is what I'll mean by "brand."
The key to understanding the concept "brand," is to understand its value. How it shapes and encapsulates organizational ideas and initiatives, how the marketplace understands and values it, and how we wish to represent our attitudes about it (manipulative marketing technique or organizing business principle). As I dig a little deeper into the concept, and highlight some real world examples, I look forward to your thoughts.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.