I've been building brands for over two decades now. I've done it professionally under the Honesty flag for almost a decade and a half.
What seemed like an infinite creative djungle when I started out has gradually started to look more clear and understandable, more beautiful, and meaningful.
I guess it's like life in a way. Patterns emerge. Philosophies crystalize. I still think the creative possibilities are endless, but the purpose of the branding exercise is not.
That purpose has become clear to me, and I know now why I do this and why I love it so much. It has always been a tiny pebble in my shoe through all these years that I'm spending my life doing something superficial. My dad was a doctor after all, and my mom a teacher. Saving lives and educating future generations seemed more worthwhile than helping companies sell schampoo and data plans. But I've recently started seeing something bigger in what I do, something that delves into the topic of identity.
I've always considered it at virtuous endeavour to seek your true self, and have spent all kinds of time and money to that end. But one day it hit me that perhaps there is nothing there to find, a feeling that gradually became the conviction that there can't be anything there to find. What would that be? Are you the sum or average of your past perhaps? Not really, right? Because you can change right now. You should probably change right now so that you evolve and improve. That's the meaning of life, after all.
So if you're not the sum of your past, are you then your values, beliefs, and thought models governing your future? Maybe that could be a good predictor for how you act in the future, and hence who you are? That could maybe hold up to some degree if you stayed absolutely true to your values, beliefs, and thought models, but that is basically impossible to execute on, would make you boring and predictable, and on top of that a pain in the ass to be around as you would never allow anyone, not even yourself, to change your mind.
The only answer I can think of is that we are nothing. We do. We are a process. A verb. And only you can experience the full resolution process of you, just as I can only experience mine. I, on the other hand, can only find you, or a representation of you, an image, a model. And you can only find me. We can't experience each other's high resolution processes, but can only collect snapshots of each other that we then try to extrapolate on.
You can think of it like a cone extending from you. You are this infinitely high resolution process, and the people who know you the best have a wide, complex, and nuanced image of you. Then the cone gets thinner as it extends away from you, and at the very end is this sharp little point which is that very first impression that someone gets of you when passing you on the street. This cone is your brand.
This brand cone exists for both organizational and personal brands; and if it moves and points in different directions at different times and for different people, the impression of you will vary across different observers, making you feel flimsy and inauthentic. When somebody says "hey, yeah I've heard of him too, he's really religious" and somebody else says "really? I heard he's an atheist", this is incoherent and will either make you feel unrealiable, or be forgotten altogether as the representative image of you is blurry like a multi-exposure photograph.
And creating this brand cone is not superficial. It's a really worthwhile task. All these cones help us make sense of the world, make sense of each other, help us collaborate, avoid misunderstandings, and help us get to know more of the world. That is not superficial. That's at the very core of what I call "The Big Life", the collaborative body of life that is makes up all of humanity, or even all life.
In one sentence, the purpose of branding is to help people make sense of the world.
Great brands are philosophies in and of themselves. One definition of philosophy found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is
The most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group.
Another one from Oxford Languages is
A theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour.
I think both are excellent definitions of what a great brand is. The rest of it is how we communicate that philosophy in symbols, colors, words, and imagery. It's communication.
A brand lacking a philosophy is not a brand, it's only communication, and that can be superficial.
Let's give this philosophy a name, a brand. I hereby name you "Deep Branding".