What exactly is a brand? Do brands even exist or have humans simply created brands? Are brands just stories? Do brands create hierarchies? What is the difference between branding and advertising? What’s behind the logo and slogan?
In her new book, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, Debbie Millman has created an impressive dialog with several professionals in the design and branding industry. Millman interviews experts in large brand-name corporations, anthropologists, journalists and authors who study and write about brands and the impact or lack thereof that branding has on individuals, groups and society as a whole. Her question and answer discussions open up an array of conversation, spanning the spectrum of the significance of brands yesterday, today and tomorrow. She dig s in deep with questioning her “interviewees” about how and if their childhood affected their career in design and branding; at what age did they feel the pull to the design industry; what path did the take to begin their work in the industry; and what advice / guidance would they give to their design firms and other up-and-coming design professionals.
While often times the opinions of these design professionals differ, most agree that branding has absolutely nothing to do with the logo or anything visual but has everything to do with the emotion we attach to the idea, project or organization. Some even goes as far as saying that they think that the branding idea is a set of experiences, promises, and/or simply linked to the tribal instinct of humans. We desire to attach and belong to brands, and yet we don’t even know we’re doing it! “Perhaps our motivation to brand, and to be branded, comes from our hardwired instinct to connect.” These kinds of associations are created through advertisements, symbolism, public relations, anthropology, and what we can physically hold in our hands, touch and see.
Some experts casually talk about the obligations designers have to our society. Designers in general are flippantly referred to as “problem-solvers”, thus insinuating that designers should solve cultural problems or inspire humanity for social changes. However, on the complete opposite side of that way of thinking, you have other experts strongly believing that all designers should be “problem-makers” alluding to the idea that designers should seek problems, present them to society, and then rush in with a heroic solution. Coming together with the same line of thought, all design professionals seem to agree that those in the industry need to be creative, daring and bold; they need to know how to think outside of the box and they need to know how to read and re-direct people in order to get them focused on a bigger picture, pricking their interest, and involving their emotions which results in the “buying into” the branding concept. Brands need to tell a story and develop a connection with people.
The future of branding has been, is, and will always be up for debate. Brands may eventually be manifested by places and they may continue to evolve and cultivate more energy in society. Brands are everywhere we look – in political campaigns, in the air trailing behind a small plane, in classrooms, and in businesses with the newest of concepts constantly changing. Is there a possibility of “branding” becoming overused and less meaningful the more we label brands? Does technology deter or does it enable branding? Technology is also a clashing topic where a selected group of professionals think technology is superficial while others claim technology is generational and won’t be depleted.
Millman poses the question in her interviews throughout the book, is it necessary to have over 100 different brands of water? After reading the dialogs in the book, you are guaranteed to gain your own definition of branding and what brands have to offer individual people and society as a whole. You can decide for yourself if branding water is a good or useless marketing tool. The dialog may even have you thinking of ways you can make a difference in the world of brands and designs.