I get it. I finally, finally get it.
Brand does not live in the artifacts of the brand. The symbols.
Brand does not live in the brain of the consumer. Nor in his or her heart.
The brand does live in the human interactions that surround it.
We have been thinking the wrong way for so many years. We've been thinking that the brand was somehow magically built by television commercials, by "Mad Men."
But this is not true. It was the relationships around the commercials that built brands.
It was not desire that created consumerism. Rather, it was the inculcation of desire as a social activity.
We've been thrown by the glamour of the billboards. We've been taken by the mirage of the brand-makers themselves. That is to say, they wanted us to believe that they had some magical power to bestow great brands upon us, and to pay them accordingly.
But this is not the case. The greatest brand-makers in the world don't live on Madison Avneue at all.
They live somewhere else. They are the ones who generate a positive network of interaction among like-minded souls.
It is the memory of that interaction that creates the brand in the mind, the brand which the customer is willing to pay a premium for.
Memories come from talking to other people. Which in the past was very small-scale: parent and child, shopkeeper and customer, doctor and patient.
Today, the brand is built through not one or two interactions but millions and billions of them. Perhaps even trillions.
The definition of a brand, therefore, is "A social unit that exists independently of the individuals which comprise it."
Following on this, you can have a positive brand or a negative one. A positive brand is a social unit that adds value. A negative brand detracts. You want to associate with a positive brand because it adds equity to you, individually.
To do the work of building a brand, then, one must actually build a social network. You build the social network around shared symbols, which serve as a linguistic and visual code that tell existing and prospective members of that network what it means.
Kanye West is a brand not because he is Kanye West. He is a brand because he crashed Taylor Swift at the Video Music Awards win, and grinned for the cameras with her in 2015, when he repeated the stunt with Grammy winner Beck.
He interacted with her, his fellow celebrities and the media interacted with him, and we interact with the spectacle. The genius of the brand maker is to know how to create a unique, relevant, compelling and consistent social commons, that others join with urgency.
Photo by Susanne Nilsson via Flickr. All opinions are my own.