I attended several conferences these past few weeks here in Berlin where I had the chance to listen to some great speeches. Many speakers talked about branding and tried to highlight the value of it. I received the impression there’s still no common understanding of what branding really means and how to approach it. Personally, the discussion seemed to imply that branding is a choice. Below, I will discuss if there is really a question of whether to build a brand and if you should do it yourself or let others build your brand for you.
What is the basic functionality behind branding?
Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon defines a brand as the “sum of all images a brand name or a brand mark induces or shall induce at customers in order to differentiate goods or services of an organization from the ones of other organizations” (paraphrased from German source). Condensed, Gabler highlights the role of customers and their view on goods or services and differentiation from the competing market.
With a rough picture of what a brand is, we can start to talk about the process of building a brand: branding. I infer from gathered knowledge that in order to understand the full range of functionality behind branding, you need to understand what “information” is, how its content becomes manipulated under various influences, and how reception in our brains work. Don’t worry: there’s an easy way to explain the basic functionality behind it.
Imagine three people are looking at the sea. The first person says, “Look at this great deep blue water!” The second person says, “Blue? That’s turquoise!” The third person adds, “You talk about the color of the water? I love the great sunset!” In this simple example, we see the basic problem of information reception: we don’t experience life as one reality but only an individual image of it. Every one of us experiences life from his or her perspective, and these perspectives are manipulated perceptions of reality as they’re always relative to situational influences and prior experiences, knowledge, and feelings. If we want to approximate ourselves to reality, we need to consult as many people as possible to include as many perspectives as possible. Reality – or “the truth” – is always multidimensional. You can find the essence of this coherency exemplarily in the way science works, market research, and the concept of open innovation.
What does this mean?
The logical conclusion for branding: people don’t see you and your product or service through your eyes but through theirs. They don’t respond in the way you do; they implement you into their perspectives on reality. As every person has had different experiences in his or her life, possesses different knowledge, and comes in contact with you in different situations, the perception of you will be different. No matter if you want it or not, a new perception of you and your product or service comes to life every single time you are in contact with someone. Every single time people will draw their own picture. Every single time people will connect attributes with you. That’s the birth and the evolving engine of your brand.
Being aware of this coherency is your choice: put yourself in front of a mirror and reflect on what you are, actively work with this gathered information, and promote yourself using corresponding attributes people can use in their communication. Either that or let people find these attributes for you. Depending on your resources, you don’t always have to actively run into branding. Sometimes it’s enough to stay focused on what you’re good at, as good work tends to immediately be expressed as positive attributes and further forms a positive image. It won’t hurt, however, if you’re aware of the fact that people are continuously connecting attributes to you, enabling you to control what these attributes are or could be.
Following this line of argumentation, we can depict the basic functionality behind branding as the connection of attributes with a product or service, originating from different persons and different perspectives.
Having understood this functionality, new questions arise.
- How is it possible to find the right attributes for your communication?
- Is it really possible to control the attributes people are connecting to you?
- How do you define a brand strategy if everyone looks at you from a different perspective?
I’d love to discuss these questions with you in the comments below or by mail.