Branding is Exploration

– A counter-intuitive suggestion

Every potential brand already exists somewhere “out there” in the world at large. Your job as a branding and marketing professional is to find the one that makes the most sense for your company.

– Making a case for this suggestion

The conventional wisdom holds that as marketers, we “create” brands. But, what if our job was really to discover them?

How could this be so? Consider that in its most basic sense your brand is your identity. And, behind this identity is a story, a narrative that gives sense and meaning to your brand and your enterprise. It’s this story that attracts people, inspiring their patronage and their loyalty. It’s this story that lives in the minds of consumers and is evoked when they think of you. In fact, it is your story that makes the following statement true: Brands don’t live within companies, they live within the minds of consumers.

If we accept these points, they lead us to an “ergo” moment: Branding is the act of understanding the world of the customer and creating a story that relates to her life experience. It’s as much a task of sussing out what you COULD mean to the consumer as it is a task of shaping what you WILL mean to her.

– Discovering through uncovering

If we take this approach, then the job of the marketing professional is to uncover all of the potential connections between her brand and the lives of her customers – to understand the world that the customer lives in and, then, to address this world through brand communications.

Your role is not to impose your brand on the customer, but to artfully engage the customer’s experience in a way that makes you, your products and services meaningful to them.

– Branding: a social science

From this perspective, branding is like anthropology. You are an ethnographer who sets out to understand the way people think, believe and behave. By understanding their lives, you can figure out how your brand can fit into those lives.

It’s for this reason that branders have to be broadly informed, and why branding agencies must attract talent that is broadly based. Their people must practice traditional marketing disciplines as well as those not previously associated with marketing communications. Social scientists, artists, historians, psychologists, architects and others all have a role to play when branding shifts gears from “determining” to “discovering.”

In this process, we all become researchers…and research itself becomes more than it used to mean. After all, you can’t fully understand how people live by asking them questions in a focus group. You understand how they live by actively studying the world they live in. This means looking at art, media, social trends, beliefs and lifestyles. It means travel, reading, listening and questioning. It means putting yourself in the consumers’ shoes and realizing that before you are a marketer, you are a consumer yourself. To a large degree, discovering the customers’ world means finding your own.

– Once you comprehend, you can create

It is after you discover the customer’s world that you can begin to craft the meaning and the messages that constitute your brand. It is then that you begin to craft your brand by applying your own intuition and inspiration to what you have learned. Branding is not just exploration, it is also experimentation. It is the process of creating the words, images and experiences that will positively impact the customer. Those who are most successful in doing so are those who are least afraid of trying out new approaches, those who are open to finding out what works and what doesn’t.

– Always more to know

The further we go, the better we will understand the world we live in, the better we will understand our customers, and the better able we will be to create the meaningful, inspiring stories that attract people’s attention, then their affection, and finally, their loyalty.

So, get ready to explore – the world is waiting, and so is your brand.

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