Branding is Bullshit


Brand is a misused and misunderstood concept. Branding is bullshit.

In consumer terms, a brand is a noun; but it’s an intangible entity, more an idea than a thing. The brand is a perception, the consumer’s image of a company (or other entity/product) that comes from experience. A brand is also a reputation, developed over time. It’s earned. A manufacturer may control the quality of its product. The company is responsible for the visual design of its corporate identity and the physical design of its products. The company influences consumers’ experience through its customer service. But the brand is the result of the collective experience of these things (and others). The established brand is truly the domain of the consumer.
To Brand. As a verb, branding has referred to the act of creating and applying a distinctive mark. It’s how cattle ranchers have shown proof of ownership. Their brand is a scar on flesh. In 21st century business jargon, branding is considered the management and control of the perception of an entity.
In the last 20 years there have witnessed the emergence of an industry that claims to understand how to create and maintain a brand. These self-proclaimed branding experts have created a business consulting category—borne of the assumption that this buzzword branding is actually a definable practice. These agencies have fostered their own celebrity by creating their own brands and promoting their supposed expertise. The only brands they can honestly claim to create are their own. They brand themselves as experts, they manipulate others into believing them, into valuing their opinion enough to pay for it.
They claim to create brands. Bullshit. Brands exist independent of any branding. The actual brand is beyond the control of any self-appointed branding expert. See also BP, Enron, Lehman Brothers…
I contend that the business of branding is a business of deception. Branding agencies have co-opted graphic design and the disciplines of advertising, marketing, and public relations. They claim the same expertise as professionals who are skilled in these business practices—practices that existed long before the groupthink that gave birth to brand consultancies. Branding agencies have subjugated these disciplines to a supporting role; according to them, these work in service of branding. This is utter nonsense.
I have decades of experience as a designer who works with clients to create brand identity. I wish to reveal these branding charlatans as duplicitous thieves. This construct they call branding has subsumed corporate (brand) identity as a component of its realm. According to them, graphic design works in service of a larger brand maintenance initiative.
Effective graphic design works to assist client companies in communicating and representing their interests. Things like strategy, research, and competitive analysis have always been part of professional graphic design. They are also components of successful advertising, marketing, and public relations. All that branding has added to these practices is posturing, layers of management, buzzwords, charts and graphs, and more bullshit.
In the mid to late 20th century it was leading designers who created the most powerful visual identities for corporations. Designers like Raymond Loewy, Paul Rand, Saul Bass, and Tom Geismar created lasting images for successful enterprise. These geniuses could distill a company’s identity in beautiful, potent, memorable marks and apply them effectively as part of a comprehensive corporate identity. Identity design is still best left to individual skilled designers. Original thinking is not the stock and trade of multi-tiered consultancies. They rely on systems and formulae that will always produce more of the same.
I am a graphic designer who designs logos. I do not claim to brand. I create visual identity. Hopefully the identity effectively represents the thing (product, venture, etc.) it was created for. The images I create may contribute to the public’s reaction to the organization, but ultimately, my work is the creation of a visual mnemonic for a brand.
Defining and manipulating a brand will not result in business success. Branding cannot turn a failed business plan into a successful business. Branding is a hollow and, ultimately, futile endeavor. In spite of how you look or behave, public opinion will shape your brand. To foster any successful brand, it would be wiser to focus on quality products, a positive work environment, and exemplary service before, during and after the sale. Your brand will be shaped by that.


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