Why I love Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits

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A reflection on Debbie Millman’s book “Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits.

brankthinking_cover_debbiemillman-400x600As a writer and communications advocate, I find myself enamored with the art of successful branding. It has become an integral part of our society, as both the driving force of our economy and a medium by which we as individuals identify ourselves and one another. Having spent the past week devouring Debbie Millman’s book Brand Thinking and other Noble Pursuits, I was able to take a deeper and more complex look into the science and progression of contemporary branding. In this collection of interviews, Millman enjoyably cuts through the bullshit and nails down the real deal–what are the various manners through which consumers respond to cultural influences? She unravels just how the best brands don’t simply sell products or services, but create cultural impacts, both subconsciously and consciously, on society writ large.

I have always been a sucker for raw and organic depictions of humanity. To my pleasant surprise, this book is largely about human nature, offering a philosophical explanation into a consumer and designer thought process. How is one led to believe in a brand? Why are we drawn to certain designs, songs, images, phrases, faces, etc.? I believe the deepest question that illuminated throughout Millman’s interviews was: are we, as members of a consumer-driven society, that easy to manipulate, persuade and predict?

After paging through the inter-workings of Malcolm Gladwell, Karim Rashid and Grant McCracken’s disturbingly brilliant minds of brand creation, I began my own personal theories on what appears to characterize effective branding in my daily life. Successful branding always seems to encapsulate similar attributes. Think about it: what do Coca-Cola, Christian Louboutin and Jack Daniel’s all have in common? Well, several things…these brands, and hundreds of others like them, have mastered the art of knowing one’s audience. Having a reader-centered focus in any branding strategy is smart marketing. Who is the target audience? How can one best communicate with their audience? The better a business understands the wants and needs of their consumers, the more likely that business is to sell its products or services.

Kick ass branding also embodies distinctive, unique qualities. The more a brand can achieve a “stand out in the crowd” perception, the higher the odds that consumers will be drawn to it. A great brand showcases passion and enthusiasm for its product or service–the more a consumer believes that the business is genuinely passionate about what it’s offering, the chances of sustainability increase. A great brand is consistent, allowing its audience to breed high levels of trust, as well as evolutionary. Finally, the king of all successful contemporary branding: exposure. Social media has single handedly transformed the world of branding and marketing by allowing businesses to develop a widespread presence all over the world. The ability for smaller, low budget companies to obtain a substantial competitive presence in the business world is remarkable–and it appears that Facebook and Twitter are to be thanked for this occurrence.

All in all, Millman’s book solidified the notion that brands shape our culture in a multitude of ways. As she explains in her book, Coke transformed Santa from a green-attired woodsman to the red and white jolly Santa we know today through their Christmas campaign. With endless examples such as this, Millman highlights the true beast that is modern day branding. It is nothing more than a perception; a skillful and deliberate attempt to manipulate one’s mind into seeing an intended perception or image. Effective branding seems to trump quality production, today more than ever, leaving me with one final question as I placed Millman’s book back on my shelf: What does all of this say about us as a culture? I never would have guessed branding could manifest into such profound self reflection (I say this while cracking open a can of Coke…gotta love irony.)

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