What is Brand? People doing things

It seems that all too often companies approach their business reactively or in a vacuum: they create something and then figure out how to sell it. The first step in this selling, they imagine, is developing a brand. What should we look like? Sound like? What are we promising? What makes us different? What do we need to say to sell our goods?

Indeed, this is how most branding engagements go.

But what if these companies considered people in the world, what they do, what they've done, and what they will be doing in the future? It would be productive and profitable — for the company and for the world — if the brand was less a way of selling something than a way of enriching people's lives through actual experiences.

Hence, rather than asking how best to position their goods, a company would ask how best to fit into the complex, networked lives of individuals. Look at the Prius. Toyota was so far ahead of the curve because they actually considered their product in the real world, in its network of energy, fuel, politics, personal desire.

Or the obvious example of Apple who over and over again consider how people interact with technology and the world. They don't invent something and then figure out how to sell it. They figure out how to create behaviors, actions, and experiences that suit the lives of individuals and cultures. They don't as much create a technology and brand it; they create behaviors, experiences, that enrich, empower, excite, satisfy.

I know, I know: this seems so obvious. And yet we find ourselves doing the same old branding engagements: here's our product, says the client, how can we position it to sell more? They don't ask: how does our product fit into the ever shifting landscape of the interaction of people and technology? They don't ask: what's changing in the way people think, interact, desire, work, live, love, experience?

A brand engagement should not just entail writing a positioning statement with a list of attributes. A brand engagement should craft the architecture of the experience of an individual in the course of a life, in a network of other people, things, experiences, desires, and possibilities.

A brand, then, is not just the way a company speaks. It is not just an architecture of attributes. A brand is an architecture of experience. A good brand enhances, enriches, empowers, redefines the way people actually do things.