In his most recent essay, Tog, rightly, rails against the practice of "branding," worshipping instead at the altar of "usability." While Tog has his heart in the right place, I think he's giving the concept of 'brand' short shrift.
I used to be anti-"brand." I would comment that it ought to refer to nothing but searing cow hides. This was in response to the classic development of brand, through advertising, which was an attempt to deceive customers about a product by imbuing it with a set of qualities it didn't have. Coke doesn't "add life." The employees at McDonald's could care less about your facial expressions.
But, I recently turned a corner with brand. This was in part due to the writings of folks like Challis Hodge and Terry Swack, and their attempts at redefining brand to reflect on a person's experience with another entity. It was also due to the overwhelming acceptance of the word "brand" in business circles--I'm getting tired of attempts to constantly create new words and terms to describe what I'm doing; I'd rather leverage existing terminology if it helps people understand what I have to offer.
Now, the word "brand" has a variety of uses, but I find defining it at the outset isn't all that difficult, and is worthwhile in setting the stage. To me, brand simply means "a person's mental model of another entity." Brand happens. Nothing is not branded. An entity's brand might not be intentional, but it nonetheless exists. Brand is an emergent property, typically derived from a series of interactions a person has with that entity. This is why the practice of "branding" is foolish--it attempts to gloss over that series of interactions with meaningless messages. But the property of "brand" is worth paying attention to.
I found "brand" very useful as Creative Director at Epinions. Among my first tasks was having us get a new logo, and along with that we did some exercises to better define our brand. This process worked because the brand was a genuine expression and abstraction of the company's beliefs and ideals. We ended up with three core brand attributes--Informing, Passionate, and Transparent. I was able to use these attributes to ensure a coherent design--no decision was made that wasn't measured up to how it supported who we were as a company. It served a purpose similar to a mission statement.
It's easy for user-centered designers to easily dismiss brand as that thing those annoying MBAs in marketing go on about when they don't have anything to say, or, worse, when they're suggesting product or marketing direction that is anathema to the designers' understanding of the users' needs and desires. But brand is a property held in the user's head, not the marketers, and our discipline is the most suited to address it. Let's take this opportunity to go beyond our product-development bounds and increase our sphere of influence throughout our businesses.
(Oh, and the title of this piece is meant to be the sound of searing cow hide.)
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I agree with the concept of branding you (Peter) put forward. The change at Epinions may have been successful as the brand had not really been extended. Changing a well known brand can be far more difficult, particularly if the brand has negative connotations associated with it. Tog's heart does seem in the right place, as the brand can easily be tarnished or diminished with unusable information (cognitively or functionally unsuable) and therefore usability is paramount to having a nice logo and corporate slogan. Changing a user's formed mental association, particularly a negative association is tricky and of great interest to me. Once a user has deemed something non-usable there is a great hurdle to overcome. How do you get the user to try again? A brand is volitile as it is easily victim to external forces. The brand is given depth by the users interaction with the product and the cognative associations are adhered as a result of this interaction rather than marketing. The successful implementation a positive usable commodity will enhance the brand and give it strength if the two are congruent with each other.
(Just food for thought)
Posted by vanderwal @ 07/04/2001 06:41 AM PST [link to this comment]
Okay, here we go:
PM: I'm getting tired of attempts to constantly create new words and terms to describe what I'm doing; I'd rather leverage existing terminology if it helps people understand what I have to offer.
I can certainly appreciate your weariness at the endless quest for terminology. However, appropriating existing terms does you no good whatsoever if you're using those terms differently from the people you need to communicate with.
Do you really propose that you can walk into a meeting with the senior management of Procter and Gamble and tell them the notion of brand they've developed over the last century or so is wrong? They will not interpret this as a sign of your forward-thinkingness; they will interpret it as a sign of your ignorance.
Much as we may sneer in contempt, the traditional notion of brand has been phenomenally successful -- too successful to simply go away. So even if the term were redefined to your liking, we'd still need a new term for what we used to call "brand".
PM: To me, brand simply means "a person's mental model of another entity."
You appear to be using "mental model" to mean something different from its usual meaning in user-centered design. Typically, "mental model" refers to the user's perception of how a product/service/company works. In this context, you seem to be referring to the user's perception of the attributes of that product/service/company.
Also, the traditional idea of brand encompasses an emotional dimension that the UCD "mental model" concept lacks. Perhaps the definition of "mental model" needs some reworking as well...?
PM: Brand happens. Nothing is not branded. An entity's brand might not be intentional, but it nonetheless exists. Brand is an emergent property, typically derived from a series of interactions a person has with that entity.
I agree that brand happens regardless of conscious intent, but I do not agree that brand derives solely from interaction. I have never had any sort of interaction with State Farm Insurance, but you know I have a strong sense of that company's brand. (And no, I don't think seeing a television commercial or hearing a jingle counts as "interaction".)
PM: But brand is a property held in the user's head, not the marketers, and our discipline is the most suited to address it.
Much of your argument seems to boil down to "user experience is a key component of brand perception" -- to which my natural response is "of course it is". But brand extends well beyond user experience.
These might be the attributes of the user experience of a Nike basketball shoe: comfortable; durable; looks cool; doesn't come off accidentally; easy to get off when I want. But there's a whole set of attributes associated with the Nike brand that are quite different: athletic prowess; determination; success.
We are unquestionably the right people to address the former. I don't think we have any business dabbling in the latter. These are different fields requiring different knowledge and different skills. We have no more business calling the shots in their domain than they do in ours.
All Tog is really saying is "product first, brand later". I think we can all agree that creating an image of athletic prowess and determination won't do you a damn bit of good if the shoe falls apart a week after it was purchased. This, of course, is where the dot-coms met their downfall.
PM: Let's take this opportunity to go beyond our product-development bounds and increase our sphere of influence throughout our businesses.
This way lies madness. User experience practitioners are already required to have expert-level knowledge and skills across an absurdly broad range. What this field needs is a greater focus on what makes it unique from established disciplines, not a crusade to subsume them under its umbrella.
Differentiation and specialization are the key to making ourselves invaluable to companies. Trying to align ourselves with their existing marketing and branding and design operations in hopes of taking them over seems likely to guarantee only that we'll end up working under them.
Posted by jjg @ 07/04/2001 03:32 PM PST [link to this comment]
first off - "brand" is good. Brand builds needed bridges. And "brand as mental model of a company or product"* helps build the bridge to the UX community, who seem to decry branding for its focus on perception. I agree with Peter that we should be more involved, but that doesn't mean we need to storm the marketing department's cubicles...on the other hand...
I don't think we have any business dabbling in the latter [like Nike's brand attributes of athleticism, etc.]
[user experience folks are already stretched too thin, across a wide range, to take up marketing]
now for my 2 cents CDN
We don't need to lead branding efforts for them to be successful from a UX perspective...
As much as our evangelical leanings prompt us to "do it right" (i.e. the user-centered, lo-fi, iterative way) we often ignore the value in other disciplines. Educating existing marketing teams in user-centered philosophy/methodology and then working together seems a much easier path. There's a lot of natural cooperative deliverables that build off each other between UX and Marketing. Maybe it's idealistic, but I prefer cooperation instead of trying to usurp a whole field.
I think we're in danger of being co-opted by Marketing (or MIS, or anyone else) when we ignore them, or decide we can do the job better on our own. Knowing the strengths and capabilities of other related disciplines lets us do a far better job, both with our jobs and with defining and advancing the profession as a whole. That understanding provides insight into how we can create a place for User Experience professionals that fits within a larger framework that includes established disciplines.
As far as how to reach that understanding, I've been reading outside the UX canon - Ries & Trout seem particularly influential in current Marketing trends. Perhaps I need to spend some time in contextual inquiry "apprentice" mode with Marketing for a while, too.
*(who said "brand as mental model" Peter? I seem to remember it was Terry who's doing his Master's out East somewhere?)
Posted by Jess @ 07/04/2001 04:50 PM PST [link to this comment]
Tog's comments referred to the very core of the brand -- what the brand stands for -- and reminded of two quotes about branding (sorry, I cannot recall who said them):
1. "A brand is a promised kept."
2. "A brand is the residue of a transaction."
While perhaps over simple (compared to the ideas in the other long, insightful responses) they lead me to drive product development towards the customer's success in the use of the product. My products inherit logos (as a symbol of the brand), and hopefully the logos' values will be enhance by the success of the product.
Posted by Trevor @ 07/05/2001 02:09 AM PST [link to this comment]
Today, I think just like Peter used to think in 1854 with his "searing cow hides" beliefs.
I see branding in a similar way as MrPatto (http://www.mrpatto.com): "As a company, your brand is whatever I, as a customer, think of your business."
So then the biggest danger that emerges, is when we dress a searing cow in latex when it is only a methane polluting organism, spiked up on antibiotics and carcinogenic hormone treatments, just to increase milk output (hence, profits?).
When I think of branding I immediately think what is the consistency between "the reality" and "what we say about it". And if "the reality" equals to "what is experienced by the individual", then why bother dressing the cow in latex? Why not just feed the cow organic food, and increase the quality of the milk?
Posted by Jakub Linowski @ 07/05/2001 07:24 AM PST [link to this comment]
I believe more and more that brand is a collaborative creation of the company, who broadcasts how they wish the cusumer to see their brand, and cusumer, who filters it through their perceptions and experience.
btw, more definitions on brand by a number of fine folks over on EH....Just playing the link-ho game, peter!
Posted by christina @ 07/05/2001 10:33 AM PST [link to this comment]
Just read a good article on branding that hits on many of the points discussed above. In the article, four "experts" explain how the web changes everything about branding. One of the experts, Scott Bedbury, of Seattle-based marketing consultancy, Brandstream, defines branding as: Brands are the sum total of all the images that people have in their heads about a particular company and a particular mark. As marketers, I feel we can try and influence those images but we need to realize that it takes much more than a slick web site or cool tv ad to influence a brand. EVERY touch point with a customer will add (or detract) from the brand.
Posted by Rob @ 07/05/2001 10:52 AM PST [link to this comment]
hm. you give advertising short shrift. if they suggest persuasively and successfully enough that 'coke adds life'... isn't it possible that the coke drinker then actually DOES enjoy this product benefit?
lot's of brands trade on letting the consumer get in the brand's aura, whatever it may be. drink this liquor and be sophisticated, drive this car and appear well-to-do. well, if the advertising convinces the buyer to buy for these reasons, and the consumer in fact DOES believe that he has derived this ephemeral benefit... who is to say the product hasn't delivered on its brand promise?
Posted by tk @ 07/05/2001 01:36 PM PST [link to this comment]
Brand as a mental model is a useful idea. I've always thought of brand simply as "a promise," and the design of products and services as the fulfilment of that promise. Since it's really an _intention_ and not a guarantee, I don't think it's quite right to consider it "a promise kept" as someone above does.
This has been the most usable definition of brand for me, since it's something I can work directly from; thinking of brand as my "mental model of another entity" is sort of cumbersome.
There are other aspects to branding, but "promise" is probably the most relevant one. Since we're involved in the fulfillment of the brand promise, it certainly makes sense to get involved in the consideration and construction of it. I also agree that you'd be crazy to take on Marketing with some reconcieved notion of brand as purely the responsibility of UE; probably no one thinks that anymore.
But brand isn't really an "emergent property" of as peter states, either. Wisely constructed brands _look_ like emergent properties because they seem to be se self-evident in every interaction you have with the company. I don't mean, though, that you can "brand first, product later." The marketers I've known who are good don't just reduce their branding work to "Coke adds life. There, I'm done." That smart marketer will step back from the well-designed product and ask "ok, how can I put together a coherent brand from what this product offers? What is it _not_ currently doing that would complete that brand or make it more appealing? How can my idea of the brand help guide the development of the product in the future?" Not so dissimilar to what we do in designing systems that can scale and suggest new directions.
Posted by Andrew @ 07/05/2001 01:43 PM PST [link to this comment]
peter -- you really should read aaker. i think you'll find his stuff pretty close to your "brand as mental model" idea.
check out brand asset management, building strong brands, or the classic managing brand equity.
Posted by michael @ 07/06/2001 10:55 AM PST [link to this comment]
I totally agree with michael... I love Building
Strong Brands! Especially of interest is the connection between product quality and brand.
Don't trust me, have a href="http://www.haas.berkeley.edu/%7Emarket/PAPERS/AAKER/BOOKS/build.html">taste.
Posted by christina @ 07/07/2001 09:46 AM PST [link to this comment]
>jjg> Also, the traditional idea of brand encompasses an emotional dimension that the UCD "mental model" concept lacks.
That’s why ux-designers should extend / enhance the typical ucd methodology with creative and emotional requirements.
>jjg> Much of your argument seems to boil down to "user experience is a key component of brand perception" -- to which my natural response is "of course it is". But brand extends well beyond user experience.
We at bsur concepting define a brand in a concept statement. A concept statement reflects an entire mentality, a ‘world’ with a vision and a philosophy. Every piece of communication embodies that concept statement; what the brand ‘feels’ and ‘thinks’, what it stands for, and its inherent norms and values. This statement is accompanied by the brand’s behaviour code. Statement and code together guide all of the brand’s communications, which includes ‘user experiences’.
>jjg> Differentiation and specialization are the key to making ourselves invaluable to companies. Trying to align ourselves with their existing marketing and branding and design operations in hopes of taking them over seems likely to guarantee only that we'll end up working under them.
First differentiate and specialize, and then, cooperate. To give you an example. I used to develop personas on my own, the ‘Cooper’ way. This gave me what I needed as an interaction designer. Later on I realised that by extending the default personas with emotional en creative attributes they also supported the work of the brand strategists and identity designers. When I convinced them of the benefits of the essence of personas they jumped right in. Now, WE are developing personas together. As a result, all disciplines acting user centered and working extremely consistent because we all share the same personas and picks what he need. It’s a perfect world, you should try it.
Posted by Frank Elbert @ 07/08/2001 08:51 AM PST [link to this comment]
Brand is an emergent property. An emergent property is a property defined by multiple agents in a system. The firm may initiate and influence a brand, but the consumer defines it (Can brand exist without the consumer? - No. Can brand exist without a marketer? - Yes). As Andrew noted, good marketers don't just create a tag line and move on; they constently monitor the consumer adapts to a brand and analyze ways for the brand to better adapt to the consumer.
Any design that ignores brand could not possibly be user-centered since the user makes her needs and desires an integral part of the brand.
Posted by dchase @ 07/09/2001 06:26 AM PST [link to this comment]
i agree... everyone on this thread should read aaker. he's pretty BS free. and while we're at it... let's check out aaker's definition of brand. clear, concise, and notably free of chinstroking aggrandizements.
"a brand is a distinguishing name and/or symbol (such as a logo, trademark, or package design) intended to identify the goods or services of either one seller or a group of sellers, and to differentiate those goods or services from those of competitors."
ahhh. clarity, simplicity, and conscision!
Posted by aaker enthusiast @ 07/09/2001 10:40 AM PST [link to this comment]
Brand is much more then "a distinguishing name and / or symbol..."
"The challenge for all brands is that they have a distinct, clear *image* that matters to customers and truly differentiates them from the rest. The key step is to create a broad brand vision or identity that recognizes a brand as something greater than a set of attributes that can be imitated or surpassed. In particular, Aaker suggests that a company consider its brand not just as a product or service, but as an organization, a person and a symbol. " Building Strong Brands By David A. Aaker
That's why we build brands by creating an entire mentality, a ‘world’ with a vision and a philosophy.
Simple example: think about the brand Virgin; Virgin *IS* a person, namely Richard Branson. Virgin acts and behaves like him, with his vision and mentality. Virgin is *much* more than a logo, trademark or package design.
still clear and simple, less consice though :)
Posted by Frank Elbert @ 07/09/2001 12:49 PM PST [link to this comment]
I think part of the problem may be branding as preached and branding as practiced. While there's certainly the seared-cow-hide mentality among some people, among the (smarter) branding people I've been reading, there's definitely a customer-centric focus.
I haven't finished it yet, but Lynn Upshaw's ""Building Brand Identity" seems to definitely take a customer-centric approach -- and in fact advocates a technique he calls "indivisualizing" your customers, which seems to be very close to the UX personas and scenarios techniques. (BTW, I summarize his thoughts it in my blog today ...yeah being a link ho...)
Likewise, all the good brand people I've known or read, start off by saying that it's a given you better have a good product.
The problem is that listening to your customers takes time and effort. Another marketing book I'm reading estimates that a serious customer segmentation study (presumably for a Fortune 500-sized company) can cost six figures and take months. Consequently, from what I've seen, some marketing people are using "brand" as an excuse not to do the legwork and instead pursue whatever buzzword d'jour. These people also tend to a have a shallow understanding of brand and think it's all about the cool name and logo.
Another problem with branding is a lot of branding people really should be marketing or advertising people. Once a brand is established, it's a one note song, rather than a symphony, and the brand manager probably needs to say no more than yes. Unfortunately, that's pretty boring for a lot of marketing types, who are really frustrated advertising types and want to get "creative" with the brand -- and end up imposing their vision rather than the customer's vision.
It's symptomatic of a larger problem. It's a truism in marketing that people buy benefits not features. Unfortunately, it's a lot easy to sell features, so guess what most marketing people do....
Posted by George Olsen @ 07/10/2001 11:09 AM PST [link to this comment]
Linked back to this discussion thread on branding again this morning, not intentionally, and I’m still a bit perplexed and bemused. The UX antibodies have sensed a foreign virus, and it is fascinating to watch the defenses, the accommodation and the battles in the interaction with: “branding”. Am I any different? Probably not, and I have found a new suit of armor to wear – Memetic Theory – in my attempt to educate all, with missionary zeal, in the triumph of the brand-eme.
First, with a broad stroke, I attempt to banish the interloper – UX – by association with the outmoded, if not discredited: It appears that user-centered doctrine is based in a traditional Darwinist “survival of the fittest” Weltansicht mixed with a more familiar cultural hamstring, Amerikanischer Puritanism. Here goes: Our job as designers is to develop a better, more successful product (read: organism) that will, by virtue of its superior qualities, will survive in the marketplace (read: cold, cruel world). Of course, any association with marketing (read: Eve, the Devil) will corrupt the product and the user (read: us, poor sinners).
On the other hand, a brand-centric point of view recognizes that, first, and foremost, we are symbolic creatures and that we live and die on Signs. In neo-Darwinian fashion, we believe that it will remain a battle for the fittest. It won’t be the best product or tool that wins necessarily: we’ve overcome that (wir haben überwunden das), it’s second nature to us already. Our work as designers begins and ends with Being, what’s coming over the horizon, capturing the usable, and making it live and resonate within our symbolic arsenal. It WILL function, we’ll make sure of that; but first, let it be part of the thriving excess of signs, symbols, jingles and doo-dads. In other words, let it be a Meme.
OK, now that the monster is out of the box, let me restate it: Our work as designers is to develop ever more compelling memes that allow symbolic association and identity to thrive between the brand and its functional components. By virtue of the symbolic association a person has with the brand, as -conveyed- through the physicality, functionality, and usability of the product, this brand will thrive in the marketplace, adapting itself over time, using its toolbox of signs, symbols, and the products themselves as vehicles for its own perpetuation. Thus, we seek the best user experience and functionality, and our success will encode for future generations more exacting standards, both for the usability of our products as well as for the symbolic arena in which we primarily live.
Apologies: S. Blackmore, Babelfish, all UXers, Darwin, Nietzsche, et.al.
Posted by jcalv @ 07/17/2001 12:51 PM PST [link to this comment]
It seems that a big part of branding is not only how the consumer feels about the product but how the product (through the social lense) makes the consumer feel about themselves. This is not a response to any one comment but I have recently been reading Jean Baudrillard (French cultural critic). What Baudrillard has to say about consumers, commodities and objects themselves is, I think, a very useful view for anyone interested in branding. Essentially he says that all objects (meaning information, products, services, etc.) are signs/symbols. It use to be that these signs/symbols referred to their function. In a production/consumption driven culture, however, these object/sign/symbols point more to the relation between the consumer and the product than they do to the function of the product. And it is not just isolated products but systems of products. The same people who buy the image of Jaguar buy the image of Rolex so to speak. Having the Jaguar without the Rolex is being incomplete. It is even, according to Baudrillard, a transgression.
Posted by Scott Lewis @ 02/13/2002 05:08 PM PST [link to this comment]
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