The branding custody battle

18th December 2014
Paul Bailey

Branding is currently in a custody battle – on the one side we have marketers and on the other we have graphic designers. Both claim they ‘create’ the brand, and both sides are claiming ownership of branding.

The truth is neither of them ‘create’ a brand – marketers market a brand and graphic designers visually represent a brand. So what are marketers marketing and designers visualising?

A brand is not created by any one specific group of people – it is born when a company is founded, it grows and develops throughout the company lifespan, and it dies when the company closes and then people forget about it. During its lifespan a brand will mean a myriad of things to a wide range of people. Much like a business constantly develops its offering and working methods, so too the brand is in perpetual development and evolution.

So does this mean companies have no control over their brand? Of course it doesn’t. Businesses need to be mindful of how their brand is developing. A brand is not a static entity that you can lock away in a brand guidelines or a marketing plan. A brand will develop through input from business actions and other stakeholder actions (employees, customers, clients, suppliers, etc) and so it is important to realise where your brand is. This involves firstly looking inwards and not outwards. It is at times introspective and this is at the centre of my point. Marketers and graphic designers communicate, in their various ways, the brand – but without self-awareness what are they communicating? The self-awareness aspect of realising where a brand is now, and then clarifying the brand is vital before communicating anything. The time spent realising, clarifying and then developing the brand is essential to any successful subsequent marketing or graphic design work.

Marketing and graphic design are extremely important to a successful brand – what is the point of being authentic and clear about who you are, what you do, and why you do it, if you then don’t explain this to people? My point is that without that clarity and self-awareness of where the brand is now you can’t possibly communicate anything successfully.

In some recent research psychologist Dan Gilbert has explained a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” which is where people imagine that the person they are now is the person they will be for the rest of time. “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”

I argue that the same is true for brands. Brands are works in progress that we mistakenly think are finished. What marketers and graphic designers do is show the world where the brand is at a set point in time, both in content and in visual design. They share the brand with the world, they contextualise the brand, they promote the brand, they represent the brand. What they don’t do is either create or own the brand, that is done by everyone – but what those working with brands can help to do is realise, clarify, develop and only then communicate a brand.

Dan Gilbert TED talk ‘The psychology of your future self’

Image 1 © SarahMcGowen
Image 2 © Brickdisplaycase

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”

I argue that the same is true for brands. Brands are works in progress that we mistakenly think are finished.