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August 18, 2005

News & Opinion: Felix Frankfurter on semantics

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 4:03 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

"All our work, our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written. Everything depends on our understanding of them."
Okay, here it is. MY definition of brand. Are you ready for it? Are you prepared to blog battle me over it? I really hope not. ;)

A brand is the expectation of someone or something delivering a certain feeling by way of an experience.

I've heard that a brand is an idea, and I'll buy that. But what kind of idea? I'm interested in the economics of the word "brand." Why do people exchange their money and/or time for an idea - be it a product, service, place or person? And the new buzz in the world of marketing that declares that a brand is a promise? Puh-lease. Do you honesty think that customers believe your promises? Get real.
The rationale for my definition is simply that people expect something in return for exchanging their money and/or time and attention. And since we are emotional creatures by nature (Don't believe me? Read some work in behavioral economics.), that something is a feeling.
I don't care if it's B-to-B, B-to-C, C-to-C or XYZ, there is always an underlying feeling that drives each purchase decision. Therefore, the impetus for all business leaders (not just marketing) is to viscerally understand that expected feeling, and work diligently to align every single word and act around it.
In Executive Update magazine, business researcher Marcus Buckingham takes the vast topic of leadership and hacks it down to size. Here are a few excerpts:

"The trick for leadership doesn't lie in being right. It lies in being clear - and that means picking and choosing."
"The thing about a good leader is that he will look at the complexity of the world and, no matter how many truths there are, he'll pick one and orient the whole organization around that one."
"You've cut through all those ridiculous platitudes about 'we've got to serve our customers;' 'we've got to wow them;' "we've got to turn them into raving fans" - all of which are nice and uplifting, but they're terribly vague."

In Virginia Postrel's August 11, 2005 article in the NY Times titled Adding Social Norms to the Usual Methodology Mix, economist and Professor Rachel E. Kranton explains the effectiveness of workplaces like Federal Express and Southwest Airlines:

"Part of what a good firm does is make those expectations very clear. Then you want to live up to the expectations both of yourself and of yourself as part of the firm."

And before you can define internal expectations you must viscerally understand external expectations: those of your audience. So to become a great brand like FedEx, Southwest, Harley Davidson, Toyota, et al, you must:

1. Understand the feelings desired by your audience (and remember, sometimes they don't fully understand them);
2. Communicate those feelings such that they expect it from you and only you; and
3. Deliver those expected feelings via an experience.

If you do it all better than the other guy, you win . . . temporarily. Because people's desires and expectations are rapidly evolving due to changes in marketplace offerings, media exposure and new technologies. Branding is a never-ending game of innovation and communication. Brand is a verb, not a noun.

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.