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Branding Is A Spiritual Exercise

Typically when I speak of branding as a spiritual exercise people respond in one of two ways. The first group rolls their eyes and reacts quite cynically; chalking the statement up to weird industry buzz-speak. The second group responds by perking up, sitting up in their chair and becoming attentive. Those are the leaders I love to speak with.

The stark dichotomy between those that view branding as a spiritual exercise and those that don't illustrate why some organizations have such a difficult time with branding and arriving on a brand that represents them — while others achieve profound impact and loyalty.

Words by
Director of Strategy
Published Sep 26, 2019

Many organizations aren’t clear on how vulnerable they have to be to establish a brand identity.

When I describe branding as a spiritual exercise one needs to embrace the fact that an organization is an organism; its a collection of human beings.

An organization has to go on a profound inner journey to understand and embrace what's inside. Whether good, bad or ugly; it must understand and embrace what it is. Then, and only then, is it ready to create a connection with the outside world, the public, its audience, customers and the people who matter to it.

Until a person understands who they are, they cannot connect with people, and until an organization understands who it is, it cannot connect with people.

It’s like saying, if you want to go ‘there’, you can’t until you know where ‘here’ is. Using a GPS as an example, if you are super clear where ‘here’ is then you can chart a path to anywhere. Without the clarity on where ‘here’ is, ‘there’ isn’t possible.

Historically speaking, and even up until the industrial revolution, we were still dealing with commodities. Products and services were highly functional. Over time, with the emergence of economic abundance, there had to be a more compelling reason to pick one product or service over another. Suddenly, we were identifying with these products and services. Selections of a commodity became an expression of self.

Now branding is important because its not just about me having my basic needs fulfilled, it’s about me wanting to have a relationship with you, understanding that my choices represent me, and if I chose you, you represent me, and I’m giving you permission to represent me in the world.

Most sophisticated brands understand this implicitly and it’s in their DNA, however I still think we are lacking a common vernacular and common language to communicate this in business. If brand is a relationship then a relationship is connection. With personal relationships, we can’t have a true and profound human connection unless we connect with ourselves first. So too with brands, an organization can’t connect with anyone unless it connects with itself first.

Branding tends to be defined by its artifacts, the artifacts of branding are some language and some visual assets. However, those are just the artifacts of potentially deep and profound and meaningful work. Often people are just focused on receiving the delivery of the artifacts — everybody wants the diamonds — but how many years of heat and pressure did it take before that diamond was formed. Everyone wants the diamond. No one wants the heat and pressure.

The organizations that understand this foster a culture of vulnerability, learning and caring. For some this is a deliberate decision and they practice the behaviours. For others it comes naturally and they never need or want to codify their approach. And for far too many, this is just some emotional psycho-babble.

If we take a deeper view of what branding is, then we understand that the artifacts of branding — visual identity and language — will always show up , we’ll always get some visual representation; we’ll always get some language that represents us. The real work is to understand and to craft in language an image of what’s already there, to capture that which you already are.

If “brand” is the meaningful relationship, then branding is the spiritual exercise to get you there.

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