NO BRAND IS AN ISLAND: Brands Exist in the Context Of People’s Lives.
No brand is an island; it exists in time, space and within the context of the human experience. The interplay of these forces ultimately brings a brand to life and without it, a brand doesn’t exist.
Brands are born from people with beliefs, values and a vision for what the world could be. So fundamentally, a brand represents a worldview; it’s a bundle of beliefs and values that inform how a company, and the people associated with it, behave and communicate.
No brand is an island. Neither the beliefs and values it communicates nor the symbols and artifacts companies use to express them are universal.
They do not permeate spatial and temporal boundaries. In fact, brands exist in space. Consumer behavior varies from region to region — often even within the same country. Tools like metaphors, humor or archetypes that brands often use to communicate don’t always transfer well from culture to culture. And there are a lot of nuances to take into consideration when a brand crosses geographical boundaries: language, culture, as well as the socio-economic and political context.
Brands also exist in time. They (should) reflect the zeitgeist of the time, so the way brands define themselves and express their core values have to evolve over time — in a relevant yet authentic way.
Dove, for example, understood the changing beliefs around women’s beauty so they decided not only to join the conversation, but to help lead it with a series of women’s empowerment campaigns that resonated with millions around the world.
Furthermore, each generation is defined by the socio-political issues of its time. And great brands not only insert themselves in those important conversations, but they take a stance. They take seriously the responsibility that comes with the power to shape and influence culture. From Coca-Cola’s Hilltop Ad against the Vietnam war, to Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality, great brands recognize these moments as cultural tipping points and as opportunities to show their brand values in action.
Finally, no brand is an island because companies do not own the perception of their brand — regardless of how clear and intentional they are about how they want to be perceived.
And in many ways perception is reality, so those who own that perception become co-authors of the brand. Great brands understand the importance of feedback from early adopters and power users and leverage it to their advantage. The hashtag and “@“ symbol so integral to Twitter, for example, were both created by users and later adopted by the company.
Customers are also co-authors because it’s their experience with the brand that ultimately gives it a history. It’s their love or disdain for a brand, what it offers and what it stands for that makes it grow or die. And in the context of social media, customers have become even more powerful as brand co-authors.
Ultimately, no brand is an island because brands exist in the context of the human experience. And there are two implications here for you and me. One, we have to remind ourselves that our brands, products and services are worthless in and of themselves, because they only gain value in the context of people’s lives. So we have to build people-centric brands. Two, we have to stop hiding behind our brands and take responsibility for the choices we make as well as the impact it has on people and on the planet. Because brands, like organizations, do not make decisions. We do.