Is branding too complicated?

Anyone else sick of hearing the word ‘Branding’? It seems to be everywhere and most of the noise is out of context and utter waffle.

On the whole, the word is overused and misunderstood. A word, bandied about by so-called professionals that have little or no idea of what they’re talking about. A word that our own sector has over complicated to the point that meaning is almost lost and sense has taken a back seat.

Here’s a quick glossary, gleaned from our friend the internet, of just some of the terminology built around brand. Bear with me, there is a point. Brand Association. Brand Anthropology (I kid you not!) Brand Audit. (Fair Enough.) Brand Charter. Brand Culture. Brand Committee. Brand Consistency (Definitely.) Brand Development. Brand Disrupter (My favourite) Brand Efficacy (Effectiveness to you and me.) Brand Equity. Brand Family. Brand Loyalty. Brand Management. Brand Meaning. Brand Message. Brand Mythology (That’ll be the history of the brand then!) Brand Permission (Linked to the Brand Master I believe.) Brand Personality (Sums it up really.) Brand Planning (This requires people smarter than me) Brand Positioning. Brand Preference. Brand Product Relationship (Genius!) Brand Promise (Yes to that.) Brand Recall. Brand Recognition (Not to be confused with Brand Recall) Brand Steward (Totally different to a Brand Guardian before you ask!) Brand Strategist (I think they might be smarter than Planners, but don’t quote me on that!) Brand Strategy (Absolutely) Brand Style Guide (Fancier than Brand Guidelines but not as cool as a Brand Book) Brand Trigger (Where would you be without one of those!) Brand Visioning (Oh dear!) Branded House (Yes) Brandface (Don’t ever ask!) And so on and so forth.

Now, hidden in the word soup there is some perfectly good stuff, but this is a sign of an industry disappearing up its own fundament, driven primarily by a breed of individuals desperate to play at branding, but totally unable to deliver. Branding is now the magic word that you sprinkle liberally on everything to do with design to make it bigger, sexier and I’m assuming, command a bigger fee.

Take packaging for example. You hardly hear about packs being re-designed or refreshed anymore. They’re ‘Re-Branded’ or even better ‘Brand Engineered’. No they bloody are not. Not unless you’ve fundamentally re-articulated the values, ethos and vision of the company itself into a single compelling personality to engage the desired consumer and then manifested that accurately in the design of the aforementioned pack. 

At Good, we are continually brought in by organisations who have, as far as they are concerned, been ‘Re –Branded’ by some Brand Charlatan. (Thought I might as well add that to the Brand Thesaurus!) This is not the client’s fault. Often they don’t know what they’re buying, as they’ve not been educated or trained to sniff out ‘Brand Wank’. It’s more than likely the first time they’ve had to engage with this muddy world and the outcome can be seriously disappointing. “It looks fine, but it doesn’t work. X simply doesn’t talk to Y.” X very often being offline comms and Y the unfit for purpose digital platform commissioned by the IT team; as it’s in no way connected to branding apparently!

It’s all just not very good and is better summed up by someone who was, and always will be, far better qualified than me.

“It’s quite extraordinary that a recourse (branding/identity) which is generally regarded as so significant, and is now so ubiquitous, is so little understood.’ Wally Olins.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to be this way, as Wally well knew. Branding has been around for a long time and it’s not fundamentally changed. It’s your promise to your customer. It’s derived from who you are, who you want to be and how people perceive you to be. It’s your personality in a nutshell*. (*For some of course, it’s in the Super Groovy Brand Being Guide). 

Good old fashioned branding that’s fit for the 21st century, done by those that know what they’re doing, makes the complex simple and every piece of communications internally and externally, online and offline, work together seamlessly. Forever. (I’m being deliberately obtuse here, but you certainly shouldn’t have to re-do the damn thing every two years!)

Branding does require good designers of course, but they must be part of a broader specialist team. The team you need will talk simply and honestly because they’ll know what they’re talking about. They’ll be multi-disciplined and they’ll want to spend more time with you questioning and understanding than producing any fancy designs. Oh, and at least one of them will be a digital brain, ideally a digital team, as you will undoubtedly need X to talk to Y if you want anyone born after 1965 to believe in you.

They’ll be friendly and collaborative, as you’ll be working together for a while, but they’ll be clear, focused and will lead you on the journey. It can be difficult and sometimes complex, especially if naming and multiple stakeholders need both a voice and management to ensure success. They will educate, cajole and simplify everything into an easily understandable guiding light for all. Done right, I’d argue, it’s not jaw dropping or awe inspiring but a journey of hard work taken together; culminating in an “Ahh, of course” moment. Something that’s been there all along, made real for all to enjoy and use.

Brands have to build trust. Branding Consultancies are no different. It’s not complicated but making it really simple, honestly isn’t easy. That’s why you need to avoid the brand bullshit.

"Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains". Steve Jobs.