At last week’s Beg to DIFFER Boot Camp, we discussed the history of the word “branding” – as in the ancient practice of marking a cow with a red hot iron. But if the idea of cattle-marking seems trivial and simplistic to you, that’s only because you’re not a cowboy. So listen up cowpoke: here’s the cow-dirt on branding: it’s not about the cows.
Branding: lots of heat; but how much light?
The word “brand” has always taken a lot of heat. But especially in the last decade, it seems like the word has become a target for heat as much as a tool for channeling it.
Critic Naomi Klein in her classic book No Logo and branding industry iconoclast Jonathon Salem Baskin in his recent book Branding Only Works on Catttle are just two examples of how the term the term “branding” has been attacked in recent years. The latter in particular poses an incendiary thesis right in the title of his book. Now, full disclosure, I’ve only just ordered a copy of the book, but from reviews (like these from The Economist or by uberblogger Chris Brogan), from the writer’s own blog Dimbulb, and from a chapter posted online I get the sense his title is just playfully singeing the brand that feeds him, but I’ll let you know after I’ve read it (please feel free to comment if you have).
Now back to the range
But as discussed in the video below, the term has never been just about the tool, or about the cow that is its involuntary recipient. It’s not even about the mechanics of applying the mark (heat brand, restrain cow, burn cow, repeat) – although those are all important nuances.
Like all human tools, you can only understand the brand if you understand the human need that it serves. So you need to understand the context, in this case the branding system that the tool operates within.
So what’s a brand for?
Branding is about helping human beings (cowboys and ranch-owners) do three things:
- Track down things that are relevant to them (Eg. their cows);
- Sort them out from all the similar-looking stuff (Eg. find their cows in a mixed herd); and
- Maintain and enrich relationships between people (Eg. not getting shot or needing to shoot anyone else)
And guess what? Those are the same things your brand is supposed to be doing.
So think about it sherriff: are you focusing on the branding iron or the relationships it is supposed to foster?