The death of branding, and the rise of realizing / by Chris W. Hubbard

Brand is dead.
Ok, so it’s not really. But for the sake of my article and the point I want to make, let’s just pretend that it is.

In fact, it probably died a long time ago, and we've all just been working with its lifeless remains in some kind of Weekend-at-Bernie's-like corporate parody. It's no wonder clients raise a suspicious eyebrow now and again.

Of course, I'm not talking about the idea of brand, or the principles and concepts that are still very much alive and well–and arguably some of the most important aspects of any modern business–I'm talking about the word itself; an archaic remnant of a disingenuous past.

Consider it's dictionary definitions alone:

  1. To mark (an animal, formerly a criminal or slave) with a branding iron.
    "the letter M was branded on each animal"

  2. To describe (someone or something) as something bad or shameful.
    "an ointment that branded her with unsightly violet-colored splotches"

  3. To assign a brand name to.
    "branded goods at low prices"

Not only are the first two definitions negative at best–offensive at worst–but the third and most loosely relevant falls so far short of any meaning we currently ascribe to it, that it serves to only reinforce frustratingly ancient ways of thinking about it. 

In its infancy, the term made more sense. It helped companies understand that moving from faceless makers-of-goods to something a little easier to understand and relate to, was a good thing for everyone. But as the concept began to evolve and move in new directions, the term clung to its past; as it still does.

Consider how difficult it to move many companies thinking of "brand" beyond new logos and website updates and social media banners. This thinking persists in spite of a never-ending slew of books, articles, presentations, and infographics–authored by some of mankind's most brilliant minds–in a strenuous effort to educate the masses still stuck in decades-old thinking. Just search the term "branding" on Linkedin or google to have your mind blown. Everyone is still trying to explain it.

But maybe, just like "Backrub" was the wrong name for Google–so they changed it–"branding" is the wrong word for branding, and we should change it?

One word that came to my mind as a possible replacement was "Realizing." 

What companies need to do today–and what "branding" is actually trying to help them to do– is simply connect with reality. They need to “realize” what it is that actually makes them great right now, and what they can honestly do to be great in the future. Every person on this planet–including organizations is in possession of a unique quality that another might not have. That quality is what will help build a great brand; not some manufactured, artificially flavored one that is packaged up and shoved down the throats of an imaginary target audience. 

When I developed a slogan for the Chinese brand BOTH, they wanted to encourage their customers to truly consider their purchases and how they reflect on, and create identity, within themselves and their immediate environment. The slogan we landed on was a powerful one: Return To You.

"Just do it" may be the world's most well-known slogan, but in some ways it represents the old way of doing things; rushing in headfirst with little thought or consideration of what "doing it" actually means and why you might want to "do it" in the first place. (not to mention what impact "just doing it" might have for your future) Brands like BOTH have "Realized" that the future belongs to a smarter, more genuine crop of decision makers, and that "Return To You" is a call to action with integrity that will last.

Products are now made and marketed radically different than they were a hundred years ago. In part because access to information, culture, and social values are different as well; and continue to change a little faster every year. The old words just aren't good enough.

I know, the brand will carry on, and I will continue to use it so that people understand what I’m talking about. But consider it, even if for a moment. What if we began to let go of the term "brand" and began to use something that does a better job of representing what we're really talking about today. Perhaps it's time to "realize" instead?