Reading Denise Lee Yohn’s AMA blog post Your Brand Is What You Do and How You Do It I found it interesting how Denise shared her realisation that defining what the term ‘brand’ means is a tricky exercise.
What it revealed to me is just how steeped we seem to be in the idea that there is somehow just one correct answer or definition of things we find in the world of management.
I suspect this is down to how we take for granted the assumption that a scientific approach to management based on seeking to objectively establish the facts is the way to do management properly.
There is one right answer, if only we could find it. This management mindset is adopted in the pursuit of credibility. Management can’t be an art, that’s too subjective and fluffy, it has to be scientific and definite.
As Denise has realised the world of people and words is more open to interpretation than that. People give diverse meaning to ideas and concepts and we use a variety of words and images to symbolise them. No wonder the idea of brand is analogous to the blind men from Hindustan’s elephant
What I did find surprising is that Denise didn’t explicitly say that the brand is a communicative symbol. Perhaps she was guarding against us thinking about a brand as merely a logo and the stuff of the ‘colouring in department’ (aka creative design function).
A brand is for sure a communicative device. It is a sign that symbolises what you do and how you do it. It signifies your reputation for supplying products and services that do the job expected of them. It also serves as an identity symbol for both supplier and customer at the same time.
As a symbol it sums up a terrific amount of information. That’s one reason it serves as a shortcut or perhaps better said, shorthand for what the brand stands for as a whole.
To that end a brand is different to ‘what you do and how you do it’ because what you do is ‘what you do’ (supply excellent products and services) and how you do things is ‘how you do them’ (creatively, innovatively, cheaply)
The brand signifies these things it is not actually the things to which it refers.
The reason it is tricky to pin a brand down is because in discourse/communications terms a brand is an ’empty signifier’. This is technical speak for the way in which people place different meanings on what a word or image represents. This explains why a brand owner can’t control or specify the meaning that is given to their brands by customers.
A case in point. I worked for many years in the gambling sector for a company called Bell-Fruit. It’s name and its three bells logo were well known in the sector. We believed the brand symbolised trust and high quality products, our customers thought it signified friendly people but a slow and lumbering organisation.
In the end I think that a brand is not so mysterious. For me it’s a symbol to which customers attach and associate their perceptions of your reputation for supplying or not supplying relevant, excellent, dependable products and services. Do this this and you have a great brand don’t do it and your brand will be tarnished.