I have been learning about brands and branding for my entire career. My definition of what branding is has always been in fluctuation until the fall of 2020. I will explain how my mind has changed over the past years. If you are in a TL;DR mood, just skip to the last paragraph where I’ll talk about my updated definition :). I promise I won’t cry if you skip through. (‘cuz how would I know anyway.)
For a while, I was infatuated with the concepts put forward by Marty Neumeier. I preached to my team and our clients that a brand is a gut feeling created by any interaction with (y)our brand. I then introduced other teachings in my life, I learned about storytelling, visual arts, art history and cinematography. This in-depth education led me to believe brands held a responsibility to tell stories. I listened to Seth Godin and grasped what it means to earn the right to call yourself a brand. I memorized case studies published by Collins and fell in love with their approach to Identity. (seriously though it's addicting I’ll start rehab tomorrow) However, when executing these concepts I was never able to cohesively put all those parts together. The quality of the work was there and it worked in practice BUT I was confused because branding/identity didn't have a solid ground in my mind. It was as if I was actively combining information I learned throughout my life but I wasn't able to express these notions cohesively.
You see at this moment in time I believed there were many sides to branding. There was the strategy, the story, the visual identity, the communication strategy, the thing where your clients insist the logo should be 5 pixels bigger because somehow all the marketing strategy will be ruined if we don't make it larger, but making it larger doesn’t solve the real issue, but they don’t tell you the real issue so you lose your s*&t… Anyway, I was able to simplify the Branding structure into two main sides. The pragmatic vs the artistic. The pragmatic defined the playground for the artistic side to do its thing. Simplifying this process brought a sense of clarity to my heart, and allowed me to explain the structure we follow more clearly to our clients. I was finally able to separate identity from deliverables and see the bigger picture much more clearly. Ok cool, so we now have structure. But we still don’t have a definition.
To tell you the definition, let me take you to a cosy Saturday afternoon. I was working on this curation project, where the users could enter the exhibition from 3 separate locations. What frustrated me was that each of these entrances provided an isolated viewing experience within the exhibition. Depending on where you started your journey, the narrative of the whole exhibition changed drastically and with this change, the impact of the works sometimes lessened. To prevent this, we devised a narrative with 3 entry points each of which caters to the overall story we wanted to tell. This way each separate experience regarding our exhibition would be carefully curated to enhance the overall story. The exhibition was a success, everyone was happy blah blah blah… The point is, (as you might have noticed) the integrity of the story and the identity of the exhibition was maintained thanks to the careful curation of each entry point. That night as I brushed my teeth I realized branding was much like this exhibition we were planning, and what we did was essentially a curation of experiences.
Since that day in 2020, I have been testing this hypothesis (on roughly 20 new branding projects) and I honestly believe this definition expands and complements the versions I held in my head prior to that day. So here it is. Branding is the careful curation of all the experiences your audience has with your brand in order to enhance and communicate a cohesive identity. (For the “TL;DR People” you missed an endearing personal story with revenge plots, dragons and the half-blood prince… )