I didn’t start out as a “brand guy”. I was an engineer, and not even one of the software persuasion. I was a mechanical engineer, steeped in Newtons and torques and shear strengths. Yet while those things filled my head, my heart found purchase in design methodology. How do you meet a person, understand their problem, and conceptualize and ultimately build something that provides them a solution? I made this question my course of study, and it served me well not only in physical product design, but later as I moved on to software products and — ultimately — brands.
“Wait”, you say. “I can follow your step from physical to software products, but…brands?” Indeed. Because while designing physical products, I learned the value of empathy — the ability to put one’s self into the shoes of another, to feel their emotions, and through it gain an understanding of their problem and how it might be solved. And as I would come to discover, empathy is at the core of creating powerful brands.
This might seem an odd statement to you if your understanding of brand is garnered from articles with breathless titles like “How Your Brand Can Use Instagram To Supercharge Sales Growth”. That endless parade of words makes a brand sound like something fleeting and insecure that must ever reinvent itself to take advantage of the newest thing. But that understanding is wrong. Because a brand is not something fleeting and new. Created well, even a “new” brand is grounded in something powerful and old. Very, very old.
I define “brand” as simply this: how a person feels about a thing. And as emotions are as old as humankind, to create brands is to work with a stuff primal to our being. To create a good brand, one must understand the emotional state of (i.e., one must empathize with) those who experience it.
Whether one seeks empathy to create great products or create great brands, the task is the same, only the level of abstraction of the output changes. In fact, I say we are all brand builders. Whether engineers, or product managers, or copywriters, or graphic designers, or salespeople, or customer support…in the end, we shape the emotional state of those who experience what we make.
When considered in this way, you realize this is what humans have done with one another from time immemorial, and it’s what we each have done since our earliest days. In the beginning, there was brand, and we were brand builders. We remain brand builders still, even if most of us don’t realize it yet.