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Are brands real or just figments of our imaginations?

Let’s face it, we are swimming in a sea of brands. From the time we wake-up until that last shot of tequila before bed, we are surrounded by brands. They’ve become so ubiquitous we barely even notice them, but are they real or an elaborate ruse designed to make us spend more? And, more importantly, how can we leverage the power brands hold?

Imagine how many brands you encounter every day. The average person can be exposed to as many as 5,000 ads in a given day. Just a quick stroll through the grocery store will expose you to hundreds of brands. Your house, likewise, will be home to numerous brands. Quite simply, we live in a brand dominated world.

Now, think of your favorite brands. Apple, Ford, Sony, whatever. Have you ever realized that they are little more than social constructs? Brands aren’t real, they’re just an agreed upon reality. Apple's iconic logo represents Apple’s brand simply because we all believe that it does.

This isn’t to say that brands don’t have a major impact on the real world. In fact, it’s just the opposite: brands are often the key to success or failure. They can shape perceptions and determine outcomes.

Yet at the same time, brands are fiction. Except, instead of being written by novelists or screenplay writers, they’re crafted by marketers. Once those marketers put their craft to good use and we’re exposed to the brand, it imprints on our mind. Indeed, customers will form an impression of your brand within the first ten seconds of exposure. This impression, meanwhile, will have a major impact on trust, purchasing decisions, and other factors.

When we see an Apple or Thinkpad commercial, we watch the story unfold. Except, instead of characters acting out a plot, we’ll see products, logos, and other  assets cultivating a brand. This brand, in turn, will be a reflection of the company and its products or services.

A Tale of Two Brands: Thinkpad and Apple

Let’s consider computers and the brand story behind each manufacturer. The stories each manufacturer tells can vary widely. On one hand, Lenovo’s Thinkpads are known for being rugged, well-manufactured, and serious. Thinkpad commercials reflect these qualities, focusing on engineering, durability, and serious functionality.  

Apple commercials, on the other hand, usually focus more on being artistic, hip, and modern. In both instances, marketers are creating a story that explains a brand. Interestingly enough, Apple and Lenovo computers share many of the same parts and similar specs.

Yet if you listen to their brand pitch, you’d think both computers are dramatically different. Thinkpads should be used by business executives, scientists, and engineers. Hip college kids, artists, and creative types should use Apple. Never mind that most of the parts and functionalities are quite similar.

Brands Can Be More Important Than Products

Branding isn’t just about perception or customer targeting. Effective branding can empower companies to succeed, allowing the best brands to beat out competitors that offer products that are similar in both price and quality. Differences in brand perception can have a huge impact on a company’s bottom line.

Consider Nike and New Balance. These days, most shoes are coming from the same manufacturing plants, using mostly the same materials. Both Nike and New Balance are regarded for offering high-quality shoes. And yet, Nike is often regarded as the higher-end, cooler brand.

Why is that? Out here in the real world, Nike and New Balance shoes are very similar. Yet the stories in our mind tells us otherwise. One brand is the domain of Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Tiger Woods and the like. The other is perhaps more well known for middle-aged joggers looking to trim pounds.

This is true even though the shoes themselves are largely the same. So what accounts for this difference? That imaginary brand. While the products may be similar, the stories their brands tell are vastly different. That’s what makes branding both so interesting and important.

These days, many companies offer similar quality products. Head into a shoe store and you’ll find many pairs of good shoes being offered by numerous brands. However, if your wallet can afford it, you’ll probably be drawn to the most well-known brands. Nike, Adidas, Puma and the like. Why? Nike’s brand surely deserves much of the credit.

Brands Are Now Worth Billions of Dollars

In fact, Nike’s brand is among the most valuable in the world, worth $28 billion according to Brand Finance. Mind you, this doesn’t refer to Nike’s market cap, revenues, or profits, but instead the value of the famous swoosh and the brand as a whole. New Balance’s brand, on the other hand, doesn’t even manage to crack the top 500 brands.

As valuable as Nike’s brand is, it actually pales in comparison to Amazon, which has a brand value of $150 billion. This represents a huge chunk of Amazon’s $1 trillion dollar market cap. Apple’s brand is the second most valuable, worth $146 billion, while Google comes in at number three, with a brand worth $121 billion.

Interestingly, these brands are worth more than the entire market cap of General Motors, Ford, and other industrial companies. In the modern knowledge economy, intellectual assets are often more important than tangible, physical assets. And when it comes to intellectual assets, brands are among the most important. Since brands are fiction, you can write your own story.

Branding Is an Output of Your Creative Imagination

When it comes to branding, you can tell your own story. And the branding decisions you make will have a big impact on the story you tell. Both your brand and the story it tells will, in turn, will help determine how your company performs.

There are many things you don’t have control over. Market conditions and consumer preferences, for example, can be impossible to predict and difficult to influence. Likewise, the competition will act according to their own capabilities and agenda. Government regulations, suppliers, the overall economy, there are so many factors that you can’t control.

Yet when it comes to writing your own story and crafting your brand, you’re largely in control. Brands are figments of our imaginations but this isn’t a bad thing. Far from it. Branding offers an opportunity to unleash your creative potential. When it comes to branding, you really can take control of your own destiny.


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