Thursday, March 26, 2009



Some of my thoughts from a current online branding discussion.

I look on branding as more akin to PR (what others say about you) than advertising (what you say about yourself). A brand is also (because unless it represents some fundamental truths it is purely cosmetic) essentially stable: it can't be ripped jeans one moment and pin-stripes the next - unless your brand is schizophrenic of course. So I find myself a bit at odds with the notion of a brand story that can quickly and reactively be recalibrated. This sounds to me more like re-casting the product proposition in response to changed market conditions. Your brand is essentially who you are, and if that can suddenly change overnight then either it's not a brand at all, or you have been horribly wrong all along, or customers should perhaps be worried. Right now, I think a lot of people will be looking for certainty as a desirable brand component.

I don't for example believe that the McDonald's brand has very much to do with what is on the menu. To me McDonald's is (or wants to be) about convenience, welcome, cleanliness, dependability, familiarity (or perhaps universality) and various other factors that create the brand wrapper for their product offering (which is a different if connected thing). Maybe I'm making meaningless distinctions.

Yes, brands can and must evolve, but they can't flip-flop about implicitly making one promise one day and a different one the next. Constantly heaving at the brand's tiller as one wave or another hits the boat is to me a sign of brand weakness and irresolution, just when the opposite would seem to be most desirable. It smacks of brand as mask rather than brand as soul.

I think it all depends on what your definition of brand is. For me, the Apple brand is that thing that makes everything "clearly and identifiably Apple", not its environmental activities or its product line-up. These are things that can change rapidly as circumstances demand, can be re-calibrated. But the Apple "thing" is much more deep-rooted than that, way down in culture and ethos, in conversations about what they are and what matters to them most. Apple's brand is the equivalent of its magnetic north. Apple can recalibrate its compass from time to time, and may choose to steer a different course, but north stays north. And Apple's remarkable success is due in large part to its brand consistency throughout its significant changes in product and market. I don't believe Apple has changed its core brand values at all since Jobs got them back on track (they lost sight of their magnetic north a bit while he was away). Nor do they need to. They may well adapt in all sorts of ways to external forces, but Apple are not, and I suspect never will be "about" the environment. The environment is not something that makes Apple what it is. So any responsive moves by them in that area are doubtless smart business, and may be wholly sincere, but they're (in my humble and uninformed opinion) not about the Apple brand.


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