On the use of brand-tinted glasses

30 August, 2017 Share socially

And what’s struck me, in doing a guest lecture here and giving a few bits of brand advice there, is how useful branding has become. Running a workshop with his students, students who you would think would have an aversion to the soft and emotional, was nothing short of a call to action. The role of branding is no longer just about creating an emotional connection after the functional aspects of business design have been sorted out. In our bid to prove the value of this aspect, we often forget that thinking like a brand strategist, is inherently useful in itself.

The inception of a venture is inevitably a difficult period. It’s a time where choices are infinite. Where you can be carried away with a vast range of stimuli and latch onto insignificant details. It’s a time when you may have a rough idea of what product you want to create and who it might be for, but even less of a clue as to how it should be brought to the world, what features it should and shouldn’t embody and what kind of people you need around you to make it happen.

That was the case with many of the students I taught that one day. As occurs with prototyping, they had previously tested some ideas, some of which failed. Some knew exactly what they were going to do, but had no idea how to articulate its value in plain English and yet some others waited until the last minute and only knew what technology they wanted to apply, to a problem they still hadn’t quite put their finger on.

At first glance, it’s the worst place to be as a brand strategist. No products. Barely any business models. A few personas here and there. But what I quickly discovered is, there may have been no one better equipped for the task at hand, turning their thoughts into things, than a brand strategist. The challenges we face in branding – articulating purpose, engaging employees, setting principles for creativity, stripping back the convoluted, searching far and wide across different subcultures for stimulus hold striking parallels to the challenge of the entrepreneur, except for the fact that their situation is much more extreme. Their challenges? Not just articulating purpose, but establishing it, not just engaging people but getting people to join your venture in the first place, not just packaging but choosing which features to embody in a product or service, starting from nothing but having to arrive at a single-minded idea, and the very same need to search for ideas and influences to embed.

What they need in such a circumstance isn't necessarily more technology or more data. Their most pressing concerns – making things relevant to people, and communicating value to an angel investor or VC at the snap of a finger is dependent on casting a wider net and making sense of all the information to arrive at clear conceptions of what exactly it is they they're offering. What they need is to look at the whole they have in their hands, take it apart piece by piece and put it back together again in the best way possible – more refined, leaner and more potent.

In those few hours, with a daring professor who was willing to give anything a shot to give those students the best chances of bringing their venture to life, we did what no one ever thought would happen in an entrepreneurship class. We talked about philosophy, about semiotics, we talked to purpose, we talked about language, morals and purpose, and we hit some pretty solid articulations of purpose, design principles and even names. For products and services that you might just see in a few months or years in magazines or in real life, brought to life by young guns who saw more and saw further, their perspectives heightened by branding.

by John Corleto, FutureBrand Sydney