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The Mutha of All Branding Experts

Posted on September 22, 2011 and read 1,912 times

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jbp The Mutha of All Branding ExpertsBrent Pulford
Right Brain, Creative Communications
A Dull Roar

I recognize that “branding”, as a buzzword, lost its currency a long time ago but whatever the current lingo is (the ever-changing marketing lexicon that frequently substitutes for real understanding and knowledge and allows charlatans and so called experts to create enough uncertainty in you that you stop trusting your own instincts – this is not a science folks, common sense is still your greatest asset), branding remains the most basic and challenging job faced by marketers and advertising people alike. When we see it done well it looks easy yet it gets done well so rarely that there is something about the endeavor that clearly eludes the majority.

Personally I think what eludes folks is the complete lack of understanding of what exactly a brand is. The common tendency to abstract it rather than actualize it, to fret over logos, tag lines and color schemes – the brand’s apparel – before appreciating its DNA.

When I was teaching the analog I used to explain the brand to students was the human being himself. The patter went something like this: While we’re all biochemically the same we have little trouble distinguishing one another. Despite our being more the same than different we all have features and characteristics that are uniquely our own – a collection of recognizable attributes. And as we grow and mature those characteristics serve to differentiate us more and more from others. In the early going physical features are the primary differentiators, but over the long haul we are  known more for our values, character and behavior, the things that ultimately determine and cement our position in society.

And where were most of those important qualities shaped? In our families. Our mothers may be the best brand managers of all. Consider that from day one Mom has the most contact with her children. She’s the one who teaches them the skills required to socialize; get along well with others, work hard, be honest, brush their teeth, be on time, show respect, get an education…you know the drill. Of course not all mothers are particularly good or effective at delivering those lessons but there’s little doubt, at least if you trust those living, breathing brands who appear at the Grammy’s and Oscars every year (and they are brands as much as they’re people), Mom frequently gets the lion’s share of credit for many a success story. No, she didn’t actually sing the song or perform in the movie but she did instill those hard to quantify characteristics that made success possible.

Cut from person to product. Most products are parity products. Like people, they are, on the surface, remarkably similar to all the other products they compete with. So how does a product become a brand and how does a brand differentiate itself in the market in the ways that give it its best chance to excel by realizing its full potential? Let’s ask Mom.

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Of course the first thing Mom does is give her progeny a name. But that’s the easy part. It’s Mom’s emotional and practical investment in her child that ultimately makes the difference for junior, that determines whether he or she is going to succeed or fail in life. It’s no different with the budding brand. At some point both the kid and the brand are going to have to go it alone, fly with their own wings, fend off predators and win friends. What devoted mothers teach us is that the upfront investment – the time, care and energy devoted to the child – is the most important. Because it’s in those formative years that a child learns self awareness, its place in the family, neighborhood, school and community. But the best Mom makes certain not to stifle her child with too many expectations or  preconceived ideas of how he or she should grow and evolve. She provides guidance but tries hard to recognize the child’s inherently unique characteristics so they may flourish. A crucial and therefore delicate balance is struck between her insisting on certain standards of acceptable behavior and allowing and encouraging the unique expression that belongs to each child and each child alone. In other words she seeks to allow her child to confidently differentiate him or herself in the world. It’s a tall order but we have enough examples of successful people and brands that we know it’s neither impossible nor just plain luck. If you can’t see the same kind of maternal devotion Steve Jobs displayed for Apple or Phil Knight and the Weiden and Kennedy boys for Nike then this comparison will be lost on you.

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The differences between a mother’s relationship to her animate offspring and a brand manager’s to his inanimate product or service are not being overlooked here. But for all those who see the brand only in the abstract you’d do well to find and recognize the similarities. The task of nurturing and growing a youngster has application for those of us charged with keeping, or at least helping to keep, brands vital and relevant in the market place. It’s all too easy to invest the wrong parts of ourselves into the process, to artificially impose on what should be the organic development of a distinct entity. Rather than decide what we think is best for our brand it’s better to listen to it, to try hard to remove our prejudices and preconceptions in order to understand what is essential about that thing we are charged with caring for. Then, as hard as it might be, allow the brand itself to tell us what needs to be done. What it’s yearning for. What will animate it and energize it. If you find that difficult then you may want to call on the expertise of Mom. (I’ve included her card for your convenience.)




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