Though I manage brands for a living, I’m not objective enough to position and manage my own brand. I’m too close to it. Every brand owner has the same myopic inability. But many of them resist objectivity. And when presented with the new, the push is on to replace it with the old. Is change really that fearsome?
The late Herb Lubalin was a legendary type designer. He achieved stature sufficient to say this and not be run out of town:
We have three divisions: a sensational division, a mediocre division, and a rotten division. The sensational division is on the top floor … There aren’t too many clients who want to operate in that rarefied atmosphere. In the mediocre division, we have clients who compromise: Put in some sensational ingredients, some rotten ones, and you have the opportunity to do mediocre work. The rotten division is where the bulk of the work is — and the reason it’s rotten is that clients determine the product.
Why do we perceive that kind of objectivity as threatening? It’s not just our brands at stake. It’s our work, our reputations, and our integrity. In theory, we brand owners rely on others to ensure our brands are neither diluted nor diminished. But as Albert Einstein correctly observed, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they’re different.”
Do we tell software developers how to develop applications? Do we tell architects how to design buildings? Do we tell manufacturers how to machine parts? Do we tell consultants how to consult? No. It wouldn’t occur to us.
But we tell the people we hire to position and manage our brands, “Make that blue instead of green.” “Select another image.” “Choose another word. I don’t know that one.” “Move the navigation bar on the website” Why?
Have we done the research they have? Have we studied the usability and readability studies they have? Do we understand the implications of design, color, and symbolism as they do? Do we assess the market and audience behaviors as they do before they write a word or design a thing?
No. We don’t. We shouldn’t. It’s not our jobs as clients to do what they do and determine their products.
If we place our brands in the hands of others, we need the courage to trust.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.