The Duty to be Different

The client always knows best.

The recent news that Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick decided to undertake its own spectacular rebranding, choosing to do it in-house and deep-sixing their agencies, is a black eye to branding professionals everywhere.

The message? You just don’t get it.

The fact that Kalanick couldn’t trust anyone else to brand his company should send shudders throughout the branding industry – it signals that the industry is stagnating and running out of good ideas. Or at least it has allowed the perception of this syndrome to take over.

When I heard about this, the first question that came to my mind was why? Did his agencies let him down? Did he feel that being the innovator and leader of this market was not getting enough play in the media? Was he just tired of seeing the same old “U” everywhere? And I mean EVERYWHERE.

The only thing that made sense to me was that the Uber chief was dissatisfied with what he saw when he looked at his brand. He lost the feeling that Uber’s brand was communicating all that it needed to say to all the people who needed to know it, to feel it, and to experience it.

And apparently no one was showing him anything better.

The conclusion he drew, however, was flawed. That is: if no one would show him a more creative idea, then he must do it himself. That is the equivalent of deciding to perform brain surgery because a team of doctors had no answers. I do not wish to say that Travis Kalanick has no creative branding ideas – only that he has not devoted his life to expanding upon them.

‘Creative,’ in the meantime, has become a huge industry. It is in marketing, advertising, branding, and everywhere else we can try to stick it. The word is starting to lose meaning. The most unfortunate side of this is that everything that becomes an industry unto itself will sooner or later succumb to complacency, to stagnation, and to standardization.

Reading through the press today, we see many people trying to define what is going on in branding today – it is interactive, it is breakthrough, it is disruptive. Yet all of these terms, and many more in the jargonicon, only serve to describe the way in which a consumer perceives a brand.

In the end, the brand is successful when the consumer, for reasons far beyond the product features or design, loves it. A brand is successful when it creates for itself a place in the consumer’s heart and soul.

That’s me, he should say. That’s my brand.

Moments and Momentum

462847The ways to achieve this for a brand are many and varied, but throwing a lot of Creative at it will not help unless there is a rationale and a reason behind it. For me, creativity is a spark. It is a Moment. That spark ignites a lot of hard work to find the best way to express it.

Branding agencies, as opposed to business innovators and entrepreneurs, spend most of their waking hours striving to discover these Moments. They do it on behalf of clients who just do not have the time or inclination to do it themselves. This is just a simple function of optimum use of resources.

Your housepainter knows 37 shades of white – you know one or two. Why not listen to him?

Branding is so much more than a logo and a new coat of paint. Although I will not go into an analysis of Uber’s rebrand here, I will say that I find it to be more cosmetic than fundamental. Again, this is not Kalanick’s fault – it is not what he is best at – but it is the fault of any agency that presented to him. They failed him. They did not show him a vision of the brand that could move him.

In my experience, the best branding projects are born of a kind of synergy between the business and the branding agency. No one knows and understands a business better than its owners or managers; and no one understands how to spread that understanding better than a brander. The two must work hand in hand to forge a lasting brand.

The duty of the branding agency, however, is to think differently than the businessperson. Ideas, values, emotional bonds, and gut feelings must find their expression in such a way that EVERYONE can relate positively to the brand. Not because it makes logical and practical sense, but because it feels right.

Can a layperson hit upon such an idea? Of course he could. And I could possibly hit a hole in one at the 18th hole.

But I am not a golfer – what are my chances?

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