INSPIRATIONAL BRAND STRATEGY | EXPLICATING
SOUL IN DESIGNING UNFORGETTABLE BRANDS
What if the core proposition of a brand—surely not every brand—spoke to the notion of luminosity, light-bearing, telling a story that spoke to uplift?
Or would that be a brand of a less highly-intentioned proposition? Most brands have values—their proposition reaches-back to their central principles—they set a gathering of values, a stance—they “stand” for something.
That stance could be an internal cultural character, how they treat their teams, the nature of their community outreach—for example, a sense of wellness creation, a better-for-you engagement, earth consciousness, an entire set of contexts that express their deeper calling: the reach is intention.
“Intending” speaks to the etymology of the word, which walks back to “tendon, tender, tenure, and tensile, among others. It comes down to “what do you hold?” That “ten” is an ancient sound, a seed syllable that, 5000 years ago, voiced “to stretch,” much in the way a tendon grasps an article it holds. So when you think about brand values,
it comes to that proposition of “holding.”
DON’T HOLD BACK
Many brands hold, foremost, their notion of commerce—they’re built to be transactional—which lies in the various nature of their stability. Still, one starts with foundational storytelling, it’s a basic question. Why did this brand come into play, what’s the principle of its creation?
The brand owner might offer,
“I had a dream; I’m trying to make things easier for people, I’m trying to help people to live better, longer, wiser, more knowledgable, more thoughtful about their decision-making in, for example, their choice of my offer.”
BRANDS OF LIGHT?
A light-manifesting brand spreads its wings to uplift—
it’s about betterment, it’s give-back, it’s conscious, it’s culturally thoughtful.
It acts for the longer term.
A shadow brand might be an offering with an ill-defined intentionality—it lives, in that uncertainty, as a transactionally [only]-focused enterprise; there’s no story that is cared for or nurtured; there’s no depth, there’s little towards a deeper cleaving to a principle of creative ignition. It’s likely soulless—just the drive to commerce and capital transaction.
“It’s a beverage—that’s it—drink it, why don’t cha?
It’s an App. Pretty much.
It’s a food, there you go—buy mine, and eat.”
Shadow brand might be…
What to your opinion?
In our studies, we’re drawn mostly to brands—and they to us—that are looking for a deeper relationship to the humanism of reflective narrative: storytelling, tiered messaging and visualizations—embraceable, carry-away stories: “it’s my story now.”
As anyone knows—in the strategy of brandspace—brands are made by people for people. And humans are a distinct
populace of storytellers,
and story listeners.
In our BrandQuest® collaborative thinkshops, we’re trying to get there, defining the chromosomal characteristics of the brand, embrace enthusiasm–grasp the numinous, and the goodness at the heart of enterprise, we excavate to find soul, reach-in: catalyze stories.
Or brand of light?
Decades ago, team members proclaimed, “you can’t use that word ‘spiritual’ around business people, it will scare them off.” Perhaps then, it might’ve been. Though we have a history in utilizing words that, earlier, might’ve fallen out of parlance. Like “brand” in the 80s, almost an unused noun—particularly in
our etymological framing,
“brands as fire.”
This merely speaks to the character of impassioned
brands that are led by amazing people; and it’s from these people
that I learned—and continue to learn—
everything about commitment and engagement to a premise—
in real brands, with real people:
working with Steve Jobs;
storytelling with The Wachowski Siblings,
retail massively retold with Marvin Traub, and John C. Jay,
and dynamic integrative experience design with The Nordstroms.
And the inspiration of dense merchandising,
lively display, product celebrations with
retail luminaries, Geri Stutz and Dawn Mello.
And more, another word?
We were asked to—by then CEO A.G.Lafley—towards a company-wide presentation to P&G at Building One’s auditorium in downtown Cincinnati on the concept of brand storytelling—this was in the mid 90s, before the idea of a “brand-story” had any traction, let alone use in any brander’s parlance.
To my thinking, it would be great to be continuously working with, and on, inspirational brands. Spirit is in there. These are the people, brand persona and leadership that I seek out and learn from—again and again—
since the beginning of GIRVIN, 1976.
These are people who are the brand story, as well as voicing a distinction—“thinking differently,” “retell retail”—shake it up, take your film out of the can and expose it to the light—experiment, risk;
While none of these people, in my storied relationships, would think about the notion of being, per se,“mystical,” still, that’s what it is: as a matter of interpretation—Greek mystikos “secret, mystic, connected with the mysteries,”
from mystes “one who has been initiated.”
And if you think about it for a moment, the spirituality of brands
would be an ineffable mystery—how’s it work?
It’s a deeper psychic space—a placemaking in the mind of a consumer—which would be utility: relevance of the brand; enchantment: resonance of the brand; community connectedness in reflective narrative, brand story, my story=relationships.
Still, the composite of this formula is a mystery, since there are a lot of varying human-oriented, emotional bridges
that make it work.
Sometimes, it’s just magic.
I never listened—even to the most well-intentioned colleagues—about the idea of not using words like mystical, spiritual, magical as adjectives in describing the [and our] work of branding, let alone soulfulness in enterprise.
It’s my truth—from the 70s, to the present era.
It’s either there, and
you find it,
Emotionality, psychic space, archetypal character, metaphor and allegorical qualities, in our explorations of brand, it is all there—along with merchandising strategy, packaging, retail presence, sales teams, messaging and sensorial touch-points,
digital coalescence and webspace.
The quest for fire
The inherent character of brand—as I’ve noted above, is fire.
What does that mean for a business?
Yes—ignite: it would imply that the character of its leadership,
and its direction is impassioned, committed and sparked—it’s not a doddering shuffle. It’s a lively dance—full of experiment, self criticism,
movement in change-making.
Fire might be seen as risk.
Because fire gets out of control.
Mistakes can happen.
Catastrophes might occur.
But in that immolation, sacrifices can be made, or allegorically, are offered,
and change emerges, renewal occurs.
Fire clears out deadwood and old brush; range-grass is razed,
and new growth takes root.
And fire is the mystical allegory of transformation;
fire is alchemical—it is the hearth and holder—it’s the flame and the alembic,
they’re combined: it’s the transformer,
the translational [distillatory] vessel beneath the crucible.
Distillazione dell’acqua vitae
And any brand worth its salt is about change—it’s the only permanent thing. Everything to movement and transitioning, is about transformation; it’s the gift
of change; you pass something from you
to another and—sharing—you change.
and the mystery of interconnectedness, and
the thread of being; it recognizes
the change in everyone, and everything—
it’s one to one, and it’s
one to one billion.
That is the blood surge of passionate commitment.
But that issue of commitment implies
a walk over to the other side,
past the shadow to a different light.
Go forward yourself,
in the dark to
find the Light.
In the years of working stateside and internationally, what I find—in the quest for soul, the deep heat and the heart of brand—is this:
there is an enterprise model—the core functionality of commerce; and then there’s the brand soul within—it’s a hidden language, its DNA.
It’s there for anyone to see—with an audience of smart people,
they’ll dig around to find it; while it might be in the dark,
it’s the shadow; and, in light, it’s the shining.
Shadow brands lurk. Light brands illuminate.
What is BrandLight? Think of it, what comes to mind as uplifting positive spins on story, legacy, meaning and foundation? Literally, “what do you mean? What do you stand for?”
And, contrarily, “what can’t we see behind the curtain?”
Which brand team lives as a BrandShadow?
Brands that are about contributing to humanity, goodness, wellness —
they have a fundamental purpose in commerce—they have to survive, make money, transact; still, they can be brands that are luminous.
Surely, they seek compensation—that is the nature of exchange —
but they are inherently light bearing;
they’re contributing to a higher causality.
To me, it all aligns
with the search.
How far, how deep are you
looking, what are you looking for,
and what lies within and beneath.
Walking back to go forward
In much of our work, the archaeology of brands, their metaphorical wisdom, the allegories of their manufacture, the symbolism of their dreams. One looks back, into the heart of their making and the building blocks of their making, as in, for VS,
a collection of books called emblemata.
Looking for alchemical implications of brand experience, studying the elements of the collectively unconsciousness, I was researching the allegories of a psychic patterning language, inherent to the premise of the brand. Patterns that are migratory—they are culturally transitional.
And these books, four hundred years old,
study and create mystical revelations of signs and symbolic experiences
and metaphors that offer insights into
the nature of experience
and living life: deep.
As in the etymology of the fascinum, going back to go forward is about looking at the patterning of primordial tellings that could be found—a kind of lineage of storytelling and deep narrative, they could find a new life.
It’s said that the calling out to entities involves knowing their names—as in the mystery of nomenclature and the etymon. And so names, and their textual and graphical rendering, mean something. In addition to the art for the brand—
found, gathered and assembled to be applied to garments,
other patterning was created, names and words—
a code of calligraphy in a string of scarves:
The point to the work, as mystically defined as it might been,
was celebrated in the gathering of symbologies and layers of messages
that spoke to profound personal intention
and the vitalization of spirit.
Intent, as noted, to intend
is to stretch out, hold,
reach, and to lean forward.
And like any brand that is well-defined,
what is the reach, the intention?
Which–light, dark–where is your brand,
where are you going?