But the art and science of branding remains messy and imperfect, filled with bad ideas, snake oil salesmen, silly trends and sloppy practice. The time has come to clear the decks and see what we can say. I offer these 40 essays. I don’t say they are the definitive word on branding. I do hope they help a little. Let me sum up.
Broadly, the brand should reflect the CEO’s vision, the consumers’ wishes, and the real capabilities of the product line. It should help transport the enterprise from the commodity basement into the heavens where real value is made and captured. It should be responsive to trends in consumer taste and preference (i.e., culture above). It should be responsive to the fundamentals that shape our culture over the long term(i.e., culture below). It should produce content that consumers can use as they build and feed their social networks. It should enable consumers to produce content for the brand and the social world. It should strip out any "value tax" inflicted on the consumer. It should engage in a process of value creation that benefits consumers, communities and cultures almost equally. (Enough of Microsoft’s zero sum bullying.)
Narrowly, the brand is build out of meanings. The art of meaning management turns on choosing the right meanings, in the right form, and how best to communicate and claim them. In the compendium, the Volvo case serves as standard practice. But, sometimes, meaning making is made easy by the competition. Microsoft effectively helped build the brand for Apple and Google. Martha Stewart made things easier for Rachel Ray. More often, the brand has to make meanings by its own efforts. In the case of Volvo, this meant a conspiracy of good marketing, as strategists, planners, creatives, to capture the meaning "safety" in the form that mattered most.
The meaning manager has an entire culture from which to source meanings. In this compendium, we noted, HP claim dynamism, Coke claimed women and self transformation, Starbucks claimed the generosity of strangers, to name few. But we note that many brands continue to behave quite badly, proof, I believe, that marketing is still so bad at meaning management that "rookie errors" remain common.
This compendium also demonstrates that there is plenty of room for experimentation and innovation in the world of meaning management. Brands are becoming more animated, more charismatic, and more playful. They are learning to be many things to many people, to include the consumer as a brand creator, and to master more, more subtle meanings. Finally, they are learning to use transmedia, brand theater, social networks and an emerging range of expressive opportunities.
As Tom Guarriello once said to me, "Hey, it’s true that they say about marketing. It’s not rocket science. It’s a lot more complicated than rocket science."
The statistic in the first paragraph comes from the 2007 Annual Report for The Coca-Cola Company here.