Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Branding is like therapy" is not a new idea. There are at least a couple of shops out there that do something like that (google "brand therapy" for examples).  But from my experience,  branding is more like therapy for children rather than adults. The clients are usually company owners (parents) who care very much about their child (the brand) and sense something is off, but they don't really know what to do. Say, Sally isn't making friends easily at school. Or Bobby seems to be incapable of listening to anything longer than fifteen seconds. In the business world, it would be Brand X's fails to attracts any customers despite the best intentions or brand Y's retention rates are dismal despite good enrolment rates for the trials.

Best case scenario, the doting parents realized there's something going on, admitted it to themselves and are now seeking professional help. Sometimes they don't admit something is wrong until when things are going really bad: Sally's behaviour is just short of asocial and Bobby's marks tank precipitously. Most parents try to enforce some discipline or gentle (or not so gentle) encouragement here, often with disastrous results.

Now this is not to say that all parents are doing terrible job parenting when they discipline or encourage their children. But it's important to understand that not all techniques work for all kids or brands. Kids and brands have distinct personality traits and individual development schedules. It is when the parents or business owners deny their darlings their personality when the problems happen. Sally is just an introvert, leave her alone and let her socialize with small groups of children. Bobby could benefit from removing some noise from his environment to help him concentrate. Brand X is attractive to their management but not the target audience. Brand Y fails to differentiate.  One child psychologist friend of mine once said parents can't make their child better. They can only make them worse.

Child therapy often involves their parents because the parents often need some correctives in their behaviours as well. Branding would be incomplete without at least some degree of soul-searching on behalf of the brand owners. Why are they in it? How far are they willing to go with this brand? What's really best for the brand as opposed for its owners? Good branding exercises work in both directions — towards the brand's outer world and towards its home life with the owners and stakeholders. It's not that brands (like kids) are difficult or boring, it's that they need to be allowed to shine in their own way.

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