Image by Jeff Arsenault via Flickr
One of the central problems with developing a systemic approach to branding, historically, is that we have trouble defining what a brand is.
The reality is that there is no one definition. Actually, brands can be defined in different ways based on their level of maturity - just like people at different ages and stage of their lives. While it is true that babies and Baby Boomers are both human, there are different norms for interacting with them at an optimal level.
Similarly with brands - depending on the stage the rules for effective branding differ. I won't get into those here, but what follows is a rough sketch of the five stages:
1. Linguistic and/or visual icon: "Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers." - American Marketing Association via Wikipedia
2. Image: "A successful image is the foundation of every successful company. The image of your brand determines your credibility in the mind of new clients, and establishes the value of your products and services." - Sales Creators
3. Relationship: "It is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers." - The Marketing Blog
4. Community: "Your brand...is represented by your entire organization: employees, business partners, shareholders, all the members of your supply chain, and even your customers. That's why a strong brand requires complete understanding and expression of your brand promise by everyone in your brand community." - Reach Communications Consulting
5. Ecosystem: "The best youth brands in the world know that it’s essential to create a BRAND ECOSYSTEM (sic)…a living, breathing organism that is all about stimulating and feeding off conversations that happen within it, then using that to build further brand stories." - Dan Pankranz
The difference between these stages has to do with control and comprehensiveness.
The least mature and most prevalent brand is created by someone who then tries to control it.
As understanding of the meaning of brand grows, the brand creator realizes that its meaning has more to do with the perception of the user than the intention of the producer.
At still the next stage, there is an understanding that branding is about a continuing interaction between parties rather than a static formed image.
Beyond that, there is a sense that the brand has gone beyond the individual level and ideally functions as a group that is all singing from the same song-sheet.
Finally, at the last stage, the brand creator takes their hands off the steering wheel and lets the participants in the brand process take control. This is the most genuine, spontaneous, but also self-sustaining form of branding there is and the one that is most likely to result in sustainability as the members of the community "police" themselves to remain true to the brand's core values. Values that include respecting themselves, each other, and the environment.
It's an interesting conversation. I look forward to hearing what others think.
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!