Branding and Human Cognition

This post will discuss something that is at the heart of everything we do as human beings. It also shows why we have marketing and branding companies at all. Finally, it shows why I love this business so much. We are essentializing beings. That is, our way of knowing the world tends heavily towards looking for the essential, the typical, and the regular. We tend to see the general, the core, the one single "thing" that summarizes, encapsulates, or explains what we're looking at. And this is the core thought behind the importance of branding. With a person, it's the person's "character" that we can see among all the details of their everyday life. Similarly, with a company, it's the "brand" of that company that we see. This sort of essentializing is not voluntary. We just tend to do it, because of how our human experiencing works. We need some general, reliable data to anchor our experience. We can't function without this keystone. The essence "holds together" our experience by continually tying it together with some key ideas. (If you'd like to know more about this theory of experience, and its origin in Aristotle and Husserl, just let me know.) So, it's not that we would like a person to have a character, it's that we expect and look for a person's character. When we look for this essence of the person, his/her character, we look for what's the true nature of the person, what s/he is "really like". If we can't find one, it's confusing and awkward. We say this person "has no character". And it's the same way with companies. To us humans, a company is surprisingly like a person. It has a name. It seems to be taking action in the world. And so, we expect it will have an essence. Not a character exactly. But, for a company, we expect it to have a brand. We are looking for what's essential about a company. And when we find nothing, to apply Stein's observation about Oakland, we might say "There is no there there." Thus, a company's brand is not some veneer laid on top of its true operations. A company's brand is its true nature. We need the brand to fully understand the company. Thus, good branding is identifying and revealing what's essentially true about a company. And good communications is ensuring that everyone gets the right message. And this brings me to what's so compelling about this business. It's a wonderful job to help companies understand themselves, to realize what's essential about them, and then to communicate that effectively.