The mysteries of brand creation versus the realities of brand perception.


You do branding? Oh you mean you write a load of bulls**t?

This is a genuine comment that I received relatively recently at a dinner party. It’s actually a pretty common response (well not that exact sentiment) when I get asked the inevitable “what do you do?” question at dinner parties, general social events, picking up the kids from school etc.

And – to an extent – I can understand it. As brand strategists, designers, managers & creators our collective existence is not as easily understood as, say, lawyers, politicians or traffic wardens – it’s certainly far more nebulous than these (but hopefully a little more popular).

But, I think it’s important to distinguish what we do as brand creators with what brands are as a general concept.  The former can be allowed to be a little mysterious but the latter most definitely should not be.

How we go about our business varies from individual to individual, agency to agency.  Some agencies are very much led by abrand strategy; some are very much led by a visual concept (I very much believe that we, at Garden, balance these approaches very well but that’s for a different piece for a different time). Some ideas spring from the mind of a visionary whilst other ideas come from a committee (I mean to use that word in the nicest possible way rather than the pejorative way that that word can be used in the “creative” context).  Similarly some designers find inspiration by using good old-fashioned pen and paper whilst others could never function without a screen. Some immerse themselves in research: living and breathing every minute of their lives in a product or sector whilst others favour a more remote, removed and clinical approach.

But in the end, it probably doesn’t matter. How we go about creating a brand is of very little importance to the outside world. By analogy, the lengths & depths that Marlon Brando, Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale would go to in creating roles, the drug induced inspirations (I’m not condoning!) underpinning Aldous Huxley’s books, William S. Burroughs’ “cut-up” techniques or the reasons why an apple became representative of Apple are of minor anecdotal importance. What matters, is the end result. And that’s exactly how a brand should be viewed. Does the brand work? Does it engage visually? Does it engage emotionally? Is it clear? Is it coherent? Is it consistent? Does it deliver? These are the indicia that matter.

I’ve wanted to post this video here for a long time and I think that it really does prove that good brands are far from mysterious. And it also proves that people understand brands far more than they give themselves credit for. At Garden, we’ve been lucky to have created brands all over the world and also ran as many brand engagement programs in as many places with as many diverse audiences as one can imagine. I tend to start these sessions with this or a similar video explaining what branding is – the general nodding of heads over the years have shown me that: 1) irrespective of their backgrounds, people really do connect with these brands 2) great brands do not necessarily need complex words to effectively engage with an audience 3) simplicity is still key.  And, just as importantly, what these sessions have also shown me is that people don’t care about how we went about creating their brands but they do care about what their brand means to them: an emotion that’s very similar in the ”real” world, and, I would argue, exactly how it should be!

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