I began this as a Yelp piece attempting to explain why I would walk into a Starbucks despite not really needing or wanting a coffee. I realized while writing my review that the Starbucks Brand was what coaxed me into the establishment more than any desire for their products. Why is that?
Starbucks is as or more successful as any brand in America. Excluding Apple of course. People make these type of broad generalizations all the time, however, without actually explaining what they mean. Successful branding isn’t defined by consistency of product or standardization of service. Those are results of successful processes, and are intended to establish branding surely, but they are not the Brand itself.
It isn’t defined by archetypal logos or subliminally powerful jingles. Those too, are but tools that a smart company might use to implement and maintain the Brand.
So what the hell is a Brand then? What makes one successful? A Brand is an idea. A sense of something. It exists outside of the tools used to implement it and irregardless of a competitors attempt to tarnish it. A Brand is the feeling you get when you see the logo, or the colors or the cookie cutter building. It is the familiar idea that represents all of those things marketers use to define business. Like a steer is branded with a hot iron to the hide, so our minds are burned with the essence of a brand. We willingly allow this, in fact we create the brand ourselves, letting the accoutrements of modern mass communication guide the process, only after we have submitted to its overall appeal or lacktherof.
Why on earth would we allow this? A Starbucks in Kentucky with the same name and products as a Starbucks in Seattle should not be associated together in our minds. They are not the same in any truly significant way, when you think about it. And yet, because of the green and white mermaid, I will indeed associate the two with one another. And my hopes and expectations will be set in advance of entering either. We are so conditioned to think of this association as natural, and desirous even, that we barely realize just how ludicrous the entire thing is.
We allow this occur because we need to. In a transient world where almost no-one dies in the same place they grew up, our population no longer has roots. We move and we travel and migrate like never before, ever unsure of our physical place in the world. We are removed from the physical constructs and talismans that defined the familiar for our ancestors. We don’t have the mountains or rivers or physical places upon which to anchor ourselves, and define as 'home.'
Indeed that special relationship develops between man and his place of ultimate nostalgia is, by comparison with our ancestors, practically unknown to us altogether. If you consider this an exaageration, ask an American Indian about his or her 'home,' and see if get the same impression from them as you do of yourself.
It is in this disconnect that brands have the opportunity to become more than just senses and Ideas. In odd worlds of unknown faces Brands provide man a significant relief in the form of familiarity, and it is in those moments, when mankind may feel lost or insecure that Brands become 'magical.' Ever move to a new city? Not know a soul, recognize a street, nor have any idea where to start making a life for yourself? In those moments, Brands are our great safety net. A sense of familiarity, in a sea of strange. Sometimes even Brands with a negative perceptiom can change instantly if they simply exist and provide familiar constancy to the senses amidst an unknown chaos.
That is the power of the Brand.
Disagree with this assessment of ‘Branding’ ? Let me know in the comments