Wednesday, May 14, 2008

brand fascination

More times than I can count in my career in advertising and media I have been involved in conversations about branding and brands. As you might expect, the tenor of that conversation depends on the client-in-question. One common rule I think you can establish, though, is that most clients do not really understand the difference between brand and branding. The two are often confused for each other, and though they are part of the same overall picture, they are not the same thing.

Essentially, a brand is the identity you create. In visuals and copy, it is what becomes your identifying mark. Branding is different; it is the feeling evoked by your brand. And it is a great deal more complex.

You can always create a great, memorable visual identity. Think Target or L.L. Bean. The thing is a great visual identity doesn't create the brand identity. Or more to the point, the visual doesn't create people's feelings about the brand. The company, instead, needs to connect with people's experiences and emotions. For example, Target has done such a good job of building its branding that many people (including me) think of that big red bullseye whenever a question of essentials from socks to shampoo to toilet paper comes to mind, and the biggest consumerists may even make the leap from essentials to figuring out what else they need (or want) from the store.

While I've found this a difficult concept to communicate in the past, the WSJ pointed to a site today where you can see what people's perceptions of brands are. Considering the extent to which consumerism and branding shape our society, it's a pretty interesting little exercise.