Fresh (and ancient) perspectives on the evolution of brands

May 15, 2014 - 9:00am
By: 
Josh Norman

Creative people have a knack for finding inspiration in unexpected places, and for following lines of thinking into new spaces. It’s an effective way to keep unique ideas flowing, even if some of them turn out to be useless. The hunt is always on, though: What’s the one great concept that could make a single piece of creative or an entire advertising campaign exceptional?

I recently started handpicking audiobooks that I would listen to while driving to and from work each day. I was surprised to find out how intrigued I became with Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein,” particularly how he put some of Albert Einstein’s thought experiments in the realm of relativity into perspective — not from a scientific standpoint, but how they started to have application from a design, marketing and branding point of view. I would listen to them again and again, scrubbing back through my trusty iPod to make sure I’d caught all the details from a discussion that was clearly above my head.

What does a thought experiment have to do with my brand?

You’ve come this far, so surely you won’t mind following me down this rabbit hole.

So, what is a thought experiment? Essentially, it’s a way of explaining complex issues through a story. Creatives deal with complex problems all the time, and boiling them down to their simplest form, like a story, can often lead to a solution. Looking at ways others have explained complicated issues in this manner became engrossing to me. So, I started looking up other thought experiments and paradoxes. Eventually, I came across one of the oldest of its kind, popularized by Greek writer Plutarch in the late First Century: “The Ship of Theseus,” or “Theseus’ Paradox.”

It goes something like this:

Theseus’ ship sets sail and remains at sea for many, many years. As time passes, the parts of the ship that are decaying and withering away are replaced by identical, new pieces. Eventually, every last plank and nail has been replaced, though the ship looks identical to when it first set sail. The question is: When it returns to port, is it still the same ship, or something different altogether?

To tie your brain into even more spaghetti knots: As each decaying piece of the ship is removed, it’s brought back to shore where the ship is completely reconstructed using pieces that were replaced at sea. After years have passed and the process is complete, which is the real ship of Theseus? The one that returns to port, or the one that was rebuilt from all the ship’s original parts? Or is neither the real ship of Theseus?

This is a great analogy for the life of any brand that exists in the marketplace, particularly brands that carry a lot of equity. Take IBM, for example — one of America’s most iconic brands. The IBM of today is nothing like the IBM that formed in 1924. How much more radically different could IBM’s core business be today than it was when it was founded? But, it’s the same company, right? The same brand? Despite everything about their business changing over the course of 90 years, we still see them as IBM. Big Blue lives on.

So which ship is the real ship, or which IBM is the real IBM isn’t something that can be answered with facts or logic alone. The answer lies more in which one you feel is the real one.

The feel factor

There’s a big push going on today for emotional branding — tapping into your audience’s most subconscious feelings to evoke action. While some of the merits of emotional branding could be up for discussion, I think the answer to Theseus’ paradox (and the evolution of a brand) is rooted deeply in feelings and emotions. Take Dale Carnegie’s words:

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion.”

The connection here is that the answer to “Which ship is the real one?” doesn’t lie in logic alone; it’s more about emotion. Which ship evokes the desired emotional response? Which ship has a connection to its audience? If both do, then consider them both “on brand,” even though logic might tell us that neither is identical to the ship that initially set sail.

How does a brand make an emotional connection?

Without question, a big part of building a successful brand is setting up an emotional connection between the brand and its customers. What do you want people to feel or think when they encounter your brand? Consider a few key points:

  • The connection you want your brand to form with your audience comes not only from marketing, but also from what products or services you sell.
  • Even more important is your brand’s ability to maintain its core brand promise. This lies outside anything the world of marketing and advertising can polish into a shiny message.
  • The experience consumers have with your brand determines their long-term feelings toward it. And like it or not, those feelings and emotions trump any kind of logic that might seem more reasonable on the surface.

Is your brand adrift at sea? Or are you putting together the pieces of a new venture and about to set sail? Texas Creative has stepped in countless times during hundreds of brand life cycles and helped craft communications that kept brands’ compasses steady. Give us a call, tweet or handshake, and let’s see where we can take your brand today.

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