For the purposes of this article, feel free to interchange the words Brand and Business where you see fit.
The word ‘brand’ is derived from the Old Norse brandr meaning “to burn.” It refers to the practice of producers burning their mark (or brand) onto their products (often animals) to signify ownership. I am sure most of you have witnessed how farmers brand their cattle, often featured on various shows / movies. The process appears painful but relatively simple. Additionally the ‘mark’ also appears relatively simple. After all what is the farmer going to do (or the old Viking for that matter)? Use calligraphy! The reality is the mark needs to be clearly visible and easily identifiable, as the animals are constantly moving and disputes over animal ownership should not require the expertise of an art interpreter.
Fast forward to today and the world of corporate branding has become a complex array of terminological, seemingly all designed for various consultants to impress their clients. Terminology that includes, but is certainly not limited to, Brand Pyramids, Brand Values, Brand Platform, Brand Promise, Brand Wheel etc etc etc all used to define and articulate the brand. The same goes for the current rage, Personal Branding. As you will see a simple Google search on Personal Branding will offer countless hours of reading on the subject. As an aside, the term Personal Branding appears to be have been first used and discussed in an article titled ‘The Brand Called You‘ in 1997 by Tom Peters.
When did ‘what you stand for’ become so complex? Albert Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough“. Why is it we have allowed this level of complexity to enter the business vocabulary when it is the simple definitions that are so often the strongest? It is apparent the KISS acronym (Keep It Simple Stupid) has long been disregarded in the world of brand articulation. Do not get me wrong, the management of brands and businesses does require expertise and science. For example, without a distinct market position (Positioning) and well articulated brand attributes, the ability to clearly stand out in a competitive environment is highly improbable.
I agree with Mr Einstein. I believe that so many brands are similar and vanilla that they meld in to one, or put another way, commoditised. Perhaps this is the reason for the level of complexity as business owners and brand consultants try create imaginary positions in the market place. Unfortunately for these groups there is only one voice that matters. The customer. You can have the most brilliant looking slide deck defining the brand but if the customer does not get it then you have lost the battle. To paraphrase the Einstein quote, “If you can’t explain it simply, your customers won’t understand it.”
Take a step back (figuratively) and ask yourself, “Can I define my brand in a handful of words“. Then go ask the same question to another handful of employees / peers. Do the words line up? Can everyone explain, with simplicity, what the brand stands for? If the answer is yes then congratulations, you are better for it. However if the answer is no then I strongly urge you to implement a program that defines your brand clarity / articulation. Remember if you cannot do it, how do you expect your customers, potential employers, contacts etc to do it? And they won’t. In today’s environment where there is a substitute brand, product or business just waiting to gain the upper hand, no one is intent on hanging around waiting for you to try explain yourself or what your brand stands for. If Vikings burnt their mark to signify ownership, or ‘brandr’ as the old Norse would have called it, then how to you define what your brand stands for, to signify like you, as Albert Einstein said “understand it well enough“. I suggest you start with a KISS.