The Semantics of Branding

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I may be dim, but have you ever thought about how people talk about brands? The brand stands for something. The brand does this or that. The brand value is whatever. The brand has a conversation with people. The brand tells stories.

Guess what? There’s no such thing as “the brand.” It has no consciousness or personality. It can’t do things. It simply isn’t.

There are businesses run by people who make decisions and take actions. Awareness, opinions, and feelings among people are driven by those actions.

Brands are the aggregation of those perceptions and emotions. They’re fluid because the aggregation changes moment-to-moment. A due host of inputs affect those moments, most of which are environmental, circumstantial, and quite often unpredictable.

Consumers don’t “own” brands any more than companies do. Brands are mirrors. Narratives with many authors. Topics that people talk about. Mental constructions that reveal themselves through description, however imperfectly, and through purchase and other experiences, more directly.

Many marketers think otherwise. It’s why so much marketing presumes to describe or stay true to brands. It’s why lots of branding is introspective, intended to get people to think or do things that are relevant back to brands. It’s why the world gets evermore amounts of branded content, conversations, and communities.

And it’s why so much of the stuff fails. Nobody cares about it. Worse, few people believe much of it. Semantics matter, and the definition of brand as “a thing” is as outdated as it is ineffective and costly.

Instead, marketers could focus on finding and sharing the truths upon which awareness, opinions, and feelings are based. Approach their work as guardians of those truths, and act as the creative souls who make them accessible and reliable for everyone else. Make a point of knowing and addressing people’s needs and interests versus serving their own requirements.

Stop trying to control what people think or their experiences. Simply contribute uniquely truthful substance to their lives, and let their interpretation and use define the brand.

Our technologies have changed. So has our culture, and the economics that underpin the markets in which businesses compete. 

Isn’t it time we changed our definition of brands, too?

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