In the Parlance of Our Branding Times

If you’ve seen the Coen Brothers excellent movie, The Big Lebowski, you may have noticed how The Dude hears a phrase on television or from another person, then repeats it shortly after in his next conversation. In the check out line at the grocery store, he hears President Bush saying "This aggression will not stand," then we hear him using the phrase a few scenes later.

How could this possibly relate to branding?

I was on the phone today with a vendor who sells a certain type of templated media solution. I was asking about customization possibilities. The young rep said, "Oh yeah, you can totally put your branding right on the templates." As if that was possible. The rep’s comment made me think of The Dude’s habit. He must have heard the word ‘branding’ from the person who trained him for that job.

It is not possible to "put" one’s branding on something. Branding is not something that is "put" anywhere. Branding is a process, not a thing.

Breaking It Down
My clients often find it helpful when I draw a distinction between brand and branding for them. It’s pretty simple, but there is such a broad misunderstanding of these concepts that the non-truth has become the perceived truth. So here it is, drum-roll and all:

Brand = Your core characteristics
Branding =
A process by which a company makes emotional connections with its target market

Oh, The Confusion!
With the words being so similar, it is easy to understand why people might confuse the meanings, but that is not the hideous offense that people commit. No, no, most folks take it another step in the wrong direction.

When most people say the word ‘branding’, they are actually referring to the definition of a brand (core characteristics), while thinking about one’s ‘corporate identity’ (the visual representation of who you are), but they call it ‘branding’ (see above) because they do not know the difference between any of these. They probably heard their personal definition of branding from the person in the next cubicle, or they learned about it from someone else who did not understand the meaning. Maybe they heard it on tv.

If I could teach everyone in business one thing about what I do, it would be this: your corporate identity, brand, and branding are three separate elements that work great together. The thing is, business people by and large do not want to know this. It’s too confusing and involved, and they want to focus on what they know and do best (which is great for my businesses). Most people do not get truly interested in the relationship between these three elements until after we put them into practice because that’s when the process becomes really profitable.

The Horror
Many years ago, a client’s office manager said to me, "We need our logo on the links page of so and so’s site." Since the site had no relation to their business, I asked why. With an air of disgust at my apparent ignorance, he sneered, shook his head slightly, and said, "That’s braaanding." A friend once told me to bite my tongue when I needed to feign ignorance. At that moment, I bit clean through it. Don’t you worry, friend, I picked it up and sewed it right back on with my handy sewing kit.

Back to The Big Lebowski
The Dude: I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about… I’ve got information man! New s*** has come to light! And s***… man, she kidnapped herself. Well sure, man. Look at it… a young trophy wife, in the parlance of our times, you know, and she, uh, uh, owes money all over town, including to known pornographers, and that’s cool… that’s, that’s cool, I’m, I’m saying, she needs money, man. And of course they’re going to say that they didn’t get it, because… she wants more, man! She’s got to feed the monkey, I mean uh… hasn’t that ever occurred to you, man? Sir?

Back to Present Day
Rep: Oh yeah, totally, man, you can totally put your branding right on the template, man. It’s brandable. Dude.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

Thank you! This is going to feel good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *