The Brand Gap

In whatever limited I’ve consumed, don’t think I’ve ever regretted finishing a book. Maybe once when I was seduced by the title “The Road Less Traveled” and tried to convince myself that if a finance professor had assigned it for a read there must be something in there, a quick buck perhaps. As it turned out, the book was a bloody disaster, a road I wish I hadn’t travelled. I soon plugged that gap by wrapping up Kerouac’s On the Road and in lesser part Investment Biker. However, the pain and embarrassment of reading Deepak Chopra like spiritual mumbo jumbo isn’t easy to overcome. On the flip side, at least now I know for sure what to make of folks who read this nonsense. You see according to Martin Neumeier the author of a pretty cool branding book “We need divisions just as much we need to transcend them”. Imagine that Lennon.

Anyway, so it’s this “pretty cool branding book” that I’d like to talk about. It’s called THE BRAND GAP.

I picked it up while browsing Flipkart.com, just to understand what flips its cart. When delivered, I dutifully got to leafing through the book. I almost immediately withered “Why is the font so big and the language so direct?, am I reading Branding for Dummies?”. I checked the cover; I wasn’t, so I kept at it and soon realized that the author was separating the hay from the chaff. In his own words “the ability to subtract features is the rare gift of the true communicator”. He of course wasn’t talking about the contents of his book, but of web interfaces. This is coming in at a good time, as we’re working on our new website.

Brand Gap attempts to bridge a few gaps at once, maybe one of its biggest follies. The author Marty simplistically sets the context to the virtuous cycle every modern brand must go through. It might sound minimal but the first myth he busts is, a brand is “not what you say it is”, it is “what they say it is”. This is important as we’ve pointed out in previous posts that if Sunny Leone says she’s a top actor it doesn’t matter, what they say is that she’s a porn star. For the uninitiated that might sound a bit derogatory, but she’d appreciate that it does work well when you want to be a porn star but not so much when that’s not the case.

As he moves onto the cycle we come across words. A bunch of familiar words threaded around an intellectual twirl, some usually found in branding books, some a bit of a surprise; Differentiate, Collaborate, Innovate, Validate and Cultivate is how the wheel completes one full turn.

By answering some very basic questions honestly, Marty feels one can arrive at a decision on how differentiated an offering is and whether the brand has a Raison dêtreLady Gaga as a musician does not just inform you that she’s a performing artist and you must listen to her, she punches you in the teeth when you put her against the other packaged musicians in the market place.

In his heavily cross referred book, Marty then moves on to why “no entity natural or economic evolves in isolation”. It is collaboration that is the biggest take away for me. It reinforces our belief on how important it is to involve and interrogate experts to arrive at brands and brand lessons that are pure. He illustrates how Hollywood has been doing this for years. To masterfully employ new tactics, such as 3D projection one cannot hope to hold the remote control too close to ones chest. Critical for creativity, which is “the most difficult part of the branding mix to control”.

Creativity he highlights, doesn’t always involve reinventing the wheel, but finding fresher ways of doing the same things. Such as, investing in Reality TV to reach the young.  This is what innovation is about and it lies at the heart of better design and better business.

The author then spends time, a bit too much of it on the subject of validation without clearly arriving at whether he is for it or against. He attempts to mask his uncertainty in hyperbole about what and how much research is good enough. Of course he restates that people are different. For us that just validates that young people are different at different levels. As a saving grace he offers value through a few empirically proven research quick fixes. Worth it.

Eventually he escapes his myriad to arrive at the last leg in the cycle where his idea, that it’s ok for brands to make mistakes as long as they seem human about it, makes plenty sense. The point is when Snoop Doggy Dogg is resting on a stash of the good stuff it makes sense. It’s bad, but its better when he gets caught red eyed at the Heathrow. “He’s human, he likes to smoke weed”, his audience will defend him.

Overall it’s an important and quick read for not just brand pros but also entrepreneurs looking at developing brands

a)      It’d help them bust some myths about the importance of brand

b)      It’ll also give them a larger picture of how they should stop obsessing over there product and start reaching out to its intended audience

It’s also a good book for non-brand professionals as the big idea of the book is how brand is a sum total of various customer touch points. Which also implies that TURFISMO a term used in the book and defined as “behind the screen politicking” is one of the many challenges, especially in the new media environment where there are tech folks and there is the tech allergic brigade fearful of code and vigorously guarding their own.

Another intended subliminal purpose of the book is to wake up the design folks. “..creative crowd cannot absolve one’s responsibility to everything but one’s artistic soul”. It is not infrequent to come across the pretence of right-brainhood. I do wish that the author would have thrown light onto how this must be dealt with. Instead, Marty  tends to be repetitive about notions that are uncontested anyway. Nobody openly challenges the marketing wisdom (or the lack of it) of Henry Ford or Akio Morita and neither does the book.

What it does effectively though is become extremely practical and observational.

All in all, I’d recommend it as a little refresher if you’re in the need of whiskey sour like conjecture.  It’s got enough “I knew that” moments blended with the “no way” feeling. On the side it’s got a few cheat codes, that could help you choose between various branding approaches and develop a creative system or simply take to the whiteboard in a meeting room where the air is heavy.



One thought on “The Brand Gap

  1. Helpful, thanks!

    Posted by jacquelinejoseph | March 1, 2012, 9:46 pm

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