It seems to me a lot of confusion and irritation about branding and whether it’s good or not, arises from different meanings people attribute to the word. (Christine Arden of allaboutbranding and DNA Design in Auckland made this point to me last week and inspired me to write this.)
I don’t want to bore you with linguistic deckchairs, though that may be the effect of this post. And I’d like to avoid telling you which definition is right, because it’s hardly my place to do so.
First, there was Brand as trademark, and that was simple enough.
Then the marketing boys got excited and started to create bigger ideas of what a brand was through things like advertising, design etc. Hence brand-as-idealised-image. Not to be confused with what we consumers laughingly call reality.
This was most prominent in the commercial world, which means that for many people, brand-as-image became synonymous with brand-as-giant-con-trick perpetrated by unscrupulous manipulators. These people, understandably, get irate when anyone talks about Oxfam or the Catholic Church as a brand.
Although a fourth definition of brand would include all such organisations. This, the broadest definition, is brand-as-shorthand-for-ideas people have about people, organisations or things.
Where there is a lot of mischief is when people slip artfully from one definition to another. Thus they start with the broad definition and pay tribute to how consumers now control brands. Then proceed to talk about the branding-as-ideal work they do as if it controls the whole thing.
Personally, I favour the broadest definition but also still feel a bit uneasy talking about worthy causes as brands, simply because the word still carries the baggage from the more crass commercial attempts at branding.
Is this helpful or are you bored yet?