Thursday, July 12, 2012

Brand as Discipline Requires Rigor, Accountability, Transparency

Brand people are too often perceived as "fluff" professionals: "Anyone can call themselves a brand expert."

Exceptions don't disprove the generalization, nor do concurring examples prove it.

The question is whether the perception is true, and if so why the perception exists.

To get the answer we could look at a parallel profession, sociology.

It is very hard to define what society "is." What the collective consciousness "is." Because it's intangible. You can only measure the effect.

The only reason sociology became a respected enterprise was that the "founding fathers" (Weber and Durkheim) elevated it to the level of science. Perhaps Marx.

Of course this is also its downfall as sociologists who are predominantly qualitative, ethnographic, etc. get less respect than the ones who do massive surveys.

The sociologists I most enjoyed learning about - Mead, Simmel, Goffman, Garfinkel - all focused on the quality of group experience. So I'm not here to say we should all turn into quants.

But the fact is that numbers and tangible outcomes, however incomplete, enable objective and rigorous testing.

It is not enough to say, "I just know it." You have to submit your "knowing" to peer review and external analysis.

This is a great conundrum to me as the things most worth knowing are ultimately reached in intangible ways and are inexpressible.

So the discipline of branding, if it is one (I think it is), has to somehow marry art and science. But that isn't going to happen unless we can all agree on taxonomy. What the heck is it that we're doing? For once and for all, just say it and build a body of knowledge around it, so that we can improve.

The CSR folks are hitting it out of the park on that one. Copy them! Just follow the stock price for heaven's sake, and link it to the organization's activities as they relate to the brand (interactions with the public and employees would be a good start).

I once suggested that somebody start a mutual fund based on predicting brand performance. Still waiting for that to happen.

Until we can be rigorous, we will be put into the corner along with all the other creatives who sometimes hit it out of the park, and sometimes come up with nothing...unpredictable. 

Valuable to have around, but not really anything you can quantify or rely on in a serious way.