Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A good brand is a living brand

I have often thought that Rachel Whiteread's 'ghost' sculpture - showing the innards of a Victorian terraced house frozen in concrete - is potentially a really helpful (albeit self-consciously poetic) analogy for modern brands.

Her sculpture petrified the atmospheric context for the humanity and history which had existed there - the very air which had played host to the generations of conversations and confrontations. It stalled that context in time.

It forcibly connected that history together, but in a very assertive bludgeoning, uninformative way. It was evocative of those conversations, but also inaccessible, disturbingly inert and hence so very poignant.

Its very fixedness counterpoints the blood and guts of the real lives that took place there, and also counterpoints the chipboard, chintz and china that constituted the fabric of the building.

You get the rather fuzzy point. If we see the ever-changing fabric of the building as 'marketing' Whiteread stripped it away in search of some inner humanity, but instead (albeit consciously in her case) merely created a brand.

Like her concrete, many brands strive to encapsulate reality at a given moment, but in so doing they inevitably dehumanise that reality it in the process. What they capture is emptiness. Something is lost, and that something is humanity.

Brands try to keep things fixed. To concretise experience in a shade of institutional grey. And they fail, because the human beings and conversations and struggles will not be fixed.

So brands exist as an echo of reality. In a very real way, brands are history. They are ghosts. Memories of past experience. Permanently outdated until resuscitated as a piece of permanently inadequate context for new relationship encounters.

So what is to be done?

Well, to continue the metaphor, instead of filling your home with concrete, have a party.

Open the windows and doors, by all means change the curtains to create a more inviting atmosphere, leave cans of spraypaint lying around. Encourage graffiti outside. Knock down your fence.

But inside, let your manners and expectations shine. Invite people in and be an attentive host. Facilitate connections and conversations which bring people new insights and new forms of value...Let the brand flow. And keep learning.

If you have a small kitchen, knock it through into the lounge...the dining room...hallway...

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