Brands are people too.

In 2008, I wrote the original draft of this post for my blog (on Typepad – remember that?). Later it was published as a ChangeThis manifesto. Here is an update that incorporates some observations from more recent work with our clients.

When you talk about “branding,” you are not discussing a superficial activity—or, at least, you shouldn’t be.

More business people are finally starting to understand that a brand is not a veneer you apply to your product or service or idea appealing to its intended audience. Instead, a brand begins to exist when a business has a distinct point of view about what they offer to the world.

From there, the brand’s work is to articulate their purpose, align their team, and begin to convey their unique attributes, in a way that will connect with the right people. Even after all that, a brand is not what a business says it is. It’s what the consumer ends up perceiving it to be.

Brands are people?

Brands are created by people. Sometimes brands literally are people (Martha Stewart, Gordon Ramsay, a Kardashian). Sometimes, a brand is a start-up launched by friends or colleagues (people) with a shared philosophy. And at other times, brands are specific products launched by corporate divisions (headed by people who conduct research on people who are customers). In all cases, on some level, brands are people too. And, like a person, a brand needs to have a personality that people want to connect with.

A brand’s personality is shaped by the team of people—the brand’s “handlers”—who define its aspirations, behavior, and style. Once the decision is made to develop a brand, more and more people become involved. Marketing VPs, product managers, and communications consultants talk about the brand’s potential—what it is, how it’s different, and what they need to do to tell people what it is and how it’s different.

The communications team begins to collect, prioritize and edit the essentials of the brand. They articulate its distinct attributes and how it can make a connection with the customer. 

They give it tangible form by way of a comprehensive brand story platform, visual identity, and key messages.

Given the right tools, a brand is like a person with good communication and adaptation skills. It has a distinct positioning, personality, and vocabulary to reflect its values and provide ways for it to communicate understandably and relevantly.

As they shepherd the brand’s development, people act as the brand’s heart, head, eyes, hands, ears, and voice. They help the brand go out into the world, to connect with people who will value what it has to offer.

This brand adapts and evolve. Elements of the brand system can be applied in different ways to adapt to essentially any situation or communication channel as needs grow. From print to screen to physical environments, the brand adapts to unique requirements and takes different forms, but its ethos and purpose are clear. All forms of communication manifest the brand’s unique values and characteristics.

The brand experience makes sense whether a customer is talking to customer service, using a website, or hearing an app start-up sound. The brand has the ability to evolve or surprise, but it still feels “right” and familiar to its constituents—very much like a person they have come to know in different situations over time.

Given the right tools, a brand is like a person with good communication and adaptation skills.

Joy Panos Stauber

Case study: Anthropologie

Anthropologie is a brand with a distinct point of view and what they call, “a love for making things that inspire the imagination.” The products they carry (clothes, accessories, home items) and their retail environments reflect a warm, personal, handcrafted sensibility.

At a time when many retailers seem to sell virtually the same merchandise and have design guidelines that produce cookie-cutter stores, Anthropolgie seems to understand that a more personal and fluid approach—that involves their people too—can help them stand out and connect with consumers looking for something more interesting.

Individual stores are given freedom to come up with ideas for decor. The people working there get to manifest the brand in their own way, for their own community.

For example, during a recent holiday season, all stores were required to have the same large rough-hewn wooden element in store (a vaguely dress- or tree-shaped structure). But exactly what they did with it, and in addition to it, for seasonal decor was up to them. The Wrigleyville store in Chicago had a local stylist/artist make hundreds of yards of white paper chains that hung from the ceiling. It totally demonstrated the brand’s love for inspiring and making things— the creative energy of the people involved resulted in an absolutely beautiful environment created using something as basic as copier paper.

Why is this smart? Because it’s engaging and it’s about making an authentic connection with people. Employees, people, who come up with great ideas when given ownership, and who tell consumers, other people (like me and my shopping friend), the back-story about the paper chains, making us want to tell other people about it—plus go back to see what’s in store next.

On some level, all these people live and breathe the attributes of the brand (imaginative, personal, hand-crafted, etc). The brand truly comes to life this way—not through a set of identity guidelines or rules.

As they shepherd the brand’s development, people act as the brand’s heart, head, eyes, hands, ears, and voice.

Joy Panos Stauber

Everyone is the brand.

Brands need friends, or a support system and, again, it comes back to people. Everyone who plans, writes, designs, or thinks about the brand is responsible for making sure that its values remain intact and understandable to its constituents. All communications (printed, online, PR)  and experiences (retail, tradeshow, customer support, even email and phone conversations) must manifest brand values.

A group of people with a clear understanding of the brand can create great work much more easily. Decisions are made and communications are created much more easily when everyone on the team internalizes the brand (really understands its purpose and values) and collaborates to give it form.

The process itself energizes and inspires everyone on the team and, in doing so, leads to great brand experience and business results.

You don’t build a business, you build people, then people build the business.

Zig Ziglar