Anselmo Ramos, former founder of DAVID and current founder of GUT (the agency, not the bowel), shared a somewhat poetic and highly debatable post on LinkedIn. Here's what he said:
"Brands should behave more like people.
People are complex.
People are unpredictable.
People are all over the place.
There’s no 'People Manual & Guidelines.'
Let your brand live.
Set your brand free.
Let your brand be more human.
There’s no perfection in life and brand building."
Now, I'm not saying that I'm a better creative than Anselmo. The dude is very, very good at what he does. But in this case, I think he's wrong. (At least in three key parts.)
And while I'm at it, Mitt Romney's wrong, too. (More on that later.)
But Batman is unsurprisingly right.
In Batman Begins, after "finding himself" like a post-grad backpacking across Europe, Bruce Wayne tells Alfred, "As a man, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting."
Bruce was a hell of a marketer. He built a symbol, a brand that was bigger than him. Bigger than the wealthiest man in Gotham. One that could do things that he couldn't do, as a person. One that could be pure and simple. One that could survive without him.
And that's what we should be creating. Maybe not a brand that requires us to wear capes and swing from fire escapes at night. But one that's bigger than mere people.
"People are complex." But Brands Should Be Simple.
"People are complex." That's the first thing Anselmo said. And already we're off to a bad start.
See, I think that brands should be simple, not complex. A North Star for people both serving the brand and being served by it.
Brands and Culture
If you believe in the power of a brand, you probably also believe in the power of a company's culture. And to have a good culture, you need clarity. At the very least, people will know what the company, the brand stands for. Then, they can make the decision for themselves: does this align with what I believe in? The more people know what the brand stands for, the more they'll feel like they're not just a cog in the machine, but serving a bigger purpose.
Brands and Personal Relevance
And from the outside, a brand should be simple. But here's the kicker, Anselmo is right. People are complex. And therefore, they'll find a lot of meaning in the simplicity of a brand.
Brands are much more than people by being much less.
Hemmingway said that great art allows people to find meaning in it. There will be as many meanings that a brand can have as there are people. But, the brand itself should be abundantly clear and simple about what it means. It should be the universal, and the people should be the personal.
"People are unpredictable. People are all over the place." But brands should be steady.
Imagine a brand that rebranded itself every year. You wouldn't know what it did, what it stood for, or why it even existed. Constant change would make it mean everything and nothing. When a brand is unpredictable, when it's "all over the place," then that makes it meaningless. It makes it impossible to connect with, because there's nothing to hold onto.
Now, brands evolve, of course. They grow and pivot as the times require. But it should be a measured process. People are the unpredictable ones, which is why they look to brands to be steady. They look for brands to have a meaning that they can share with others, regardless of the time or place.
People are like a bunch of speed boats, driven by teenagers. Brands are like big ships, moving slow and steady, but making waves in their wake.
"There’s no 'People Manual & Guidelines.'" But brands should be defined.
We may get a bit prescriptive when we create "Brand Manuals" and "Brand Guidelines," but there's a reason for it. It's so that people understand what the brand is, what it stands for. But the problem is when these manuals, these guidelines become dozens of pages of fluff and anthemic gobbledygook.
A true brand manual could (and in my opinion, should) be one page. And if you're really good, maybe one sentence. One image. And in that sentence, in that image, there should be clarity. Not ambiguity or vagueness or generalities that every brand in the world stands for. It should be unique and ownable.
Simon Sinek said in his TED Talk "Start With Why" that the most beloved brands don't talk about what they do, they talk about why they do it.
Strive for clarity in what you brand's manual and guidelines say. But also, "Let you brand live." As Anselmo says…
"Let your brand live." But let the people give it life.
This is where I agree with Anselmo. We should let our brands live, but we shouldn't do that by making them complex, unpredictable, and undefined. We should let the brand be simple, steady, and clear, so that people can make it live.
The best brands are universal, or have found universal meaning for us to all connect to. But people are the ones that make it personal. People are the ones that make it not only relevant to the world, but relevant to the individual.
Letting your brand live means leaving room for people to find that personal meaning.
Mitt Romney Was Wrong in 2011 and Anselmo Is Wrong Today
Back in 2011, Senator and winner of the "Really-Trying-To-Be-Cool Award" Mitt Romney said, "Corporations are people, my friends." I wouldn't say corporations or brands are people. And most of the people he spoke to at the Iowa State Fair that day would agree with me.
Sure, they're made up of people. They're brought to life by people. Molded by people. Sustained by people. But brands are not, and more important should not be like people.
Brands are much more than people by being much less.