The funny thing about definitions is that they’re usually pretty vague. With that in mind I’m going to put forth my own definition about that most vague and ill defined of concepts: a brand.
For my money, a brand is a set of standards – a specific way of doing things. What those standards are, how they’re enforced, if they’re enforced and why those standards matter are all defined by the brand in question. In fact, the ‘specific way of doing things’ part usually isn’t that specific at all.
A matter of opinion
I only realised this about a year ago when I started running a comedy night with a buddy of mine. Our ‘brand’ wasn’t the logo or the strap line or the colours we used. It was the entirely subjective set of opinions that made us say ‘yes’ to certain comedians and ‘no’ to others.
This meant saying ‘no’ to a lot of very funny people for reasons we couldn’t properly verbalise. And it meant saying ‘yes’ to some comedians who didn’t really do as well as we’d hoped. But every time we stood by these standards we’d go home proud, no matter how the gig turned out.
And on the few occasions that we unintentionally betrayed them, we felt like total screw-ups. Because the thing about a brand’s standards is that most of the time, these standards are unintentional. They just sort of happen. They’re the things you do when you don’t think anyone’s looking.
When I started out at a small digital agency in India, I had a pretty clear definition of what it meant to be an ‘agency guy’.
The way I saw it, clients had one brand, one mission and that’s all that mattered. But being an agency guy meant switching from mission to mission, brand to brand and opinion to opinion at the whim of a brief. The way I saw it, agencies didn’t have missions. They weren’t brands.
The way I saw it, agencies had the standards their clients paid them for. Nothing more and nothing less.
Standards in practice
I’ve only been at Velocity a week, and already, I’m revising my definition of what it means to be an agency guy. Because there is a mission and there is a brand. There is a ‘specific way of doing things’ and more often than not, it’s hard to properly verbalise. (Even for a team of communication experts.)
The unintentional set of standards are here too. And they inform the way everything works.
The way the account managers fight for the clients they know absolutely everything about. The way the designers argue about lost art movements like they’re students again. The way Doug worries the thing the client loves isn’t good enough. The way Stan worries he might get the next hire wrong.
And that’s the other thing about standards – they’re pervasive. They’re dripping down the walls. And the ones you enforce shape your brand just as much as the ones you don’t enforce. That’s why the brands that enforce their own standards inevitably last longer.
I just never figured I’d be lucky enough to work for one of them. I figured I was just an agency guy.
Image Source: Lewis Hine
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