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Give ‘brand’ a rest

Richard Thomas

Give ‘brand’ a rest

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The word on everyone’s lips these days is “brand”, and it’s not soap, laundry detergent, or soft drinks we are talking about:  it is banks, professional services firms, corporations of every stripe and even people. At business meetings and receptions you will overhear the terms “brand”, “branding” and “rebranding” in conversations around the room.

There is no denying how powerful the concept is for a company: it bakes ingredients such as identity, values, culture and commitment to quality into a single cake.

In essence, brand is the experience people get when they bite into that cake: when they buy the company’s products or services; when they work for it; when they invest in it; when they welcome it into their community. This is something worth building and protecting.

But the concept is trivialised when we throw the term around like confetti and attach it to everything that moves. For example, just because a company has changed its livery, logo and signage doesn’t mean it has “rebranded”. If nothing else has changed – product or service offerings, work environment, management style, or business model for example – it’s still the same old brand.

A few years ago, if an entity split itself in two to create separate businesses, or sold an underperforming subsidiary, or made overall improvements to its business model, we would have described these activities as restructuring. But this term is now one to avoid: it’s too closely associated with deep spending cuts, closures and layoffs.

By contrast, “rebranding” is upbeat and exciting; it signals change for the better – a new beginning with strong visuals and no painful consequences. This has a lot more sex appeal than restructuring.

Today, the term has gained such currency that even political parties tell us they are rebranding. How will we be able to tell?

And what about this whole personal brand thing? In this case, is brand the same as reputation, which can take years to build, or is it an image that can be quickly contrived for public consumption? Is it the same as character? What about personality or charisma? What about appearance?

Please don’t say it’s all these and more. Where will the list end?

When a single word is used to represent too many things – too many concepts – it confuses rather than clarifies. Brand is weary – run off its feet. It’s time to give it a rest. There are other perfectly good words we can use. We have used them for years, and we already understand what they mean.

Richard Thomas is the Principal of Clarity Communication, a corporate communication practice. He is also vice president of marketing for the International Association of Business Communicators Barbados Chapter.