Mind, body and sold: bridging the divide between business and brand

What can Descartes teach us about brands? His concept of duality applies more to modern business than you’d think


René Descartes, a towering figure of the scientific revolution, described the mind as non-physical, as opposed to the brain, which he reasoned is made of matter. His position, referred to in philosophy as dualism, seems like common sense: everyday experience suggests our own thoughts must be “made up” of something very different from our bodies and the solid objects around us.

But while some continue to debate the mind/body issue, the majority of today’s experts agree that, despite our subjective experience, the mind and the brain are not separable; they are simply two ways of talking about the same thing.

It’s this kind of philosophy that can be applied to brands. Like Descartes’ view of the mind, some businesspeople still perceive brand as existing in another realm, away from the real-world activities that keep a business running, such as manufacturing, accounting and managing employees. They use “brand” to refer to an intangible thing that is related to, but separate from, the more tangible business entity it represents. It’s why entrepreneurs ask questions such as, how can I create a brand for my new venture? It’s why executives at mega-corporations insist: that’s good for the brand, but it’s a poor business decision.

The brand is the business

This separation between brand and business has proven useful. If the brand is a thing unto itself, it can be managed, measured and valued in order to better understand its potential.

But drawing a line between brand and business also leads to confusion and missed opportunities. To extend the philosophy metaphor further, one of the biggest problems for dualism is the “problem of interactionism” — the idea that if the mind and body are made of different kinds of stuff, how can one affect the other?

The brand/business dualism faces the same challenge; in order to have any impact, the brand must be able to influence the rest of the company. It cannot simply be a “ghost in the machine” — it must be of the machine; it must be part of finance’s investment decisions, and HR’s treatment of employees and approach to recruiting. To achieve this level of integration, we must deconstruct the concept of “brand”.

Read the article in full on the Guardian’s Organic marketing hub, sponsored by Havas Media Group.


Heirloom is a brand strategy firm helping entrepreneurs and business leaders build enduring brands. To receive articles, updates, and additional content from Heirloom, sign up for the newsletter.

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