Know Thyself

In beginning Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler, I searched for where content strategy would pop up. Where in the process are we talking content strategy here? I found familiar concepts from content strategy integrated into brand basics, as Wheeler weaves content strategy ideas (knowingly? Unknowingly?) into the reference guide useful for content strategists and marketing people alike.

These familiar concepts are:

  • Know thyself
  • Use what you know
  • Maintain what you’ve created

Wheeler mixes in wise words from various sources, those experienced in the field as well as long-dead philosophers.

She quotes Chris Grams from The Ad-Free Brand, “Brand mantras are poetry. And they are powerful tools, not just for building brands, but for building organizations.” Here, Grams is referring to the brand tagline as a mantra – a phrase that captures a company’s brand essence, and also invokes action and elicits recognition. The birth of a tagline comes from an intensive strategic and creative process, a process that familiarizes the creator with a brand’s personality and positioning, making it its own entity.

In pages following, she uses Plato to drive home the importance of authenticity as a brand ideal, quoting “Know thyself.” Supporting Grams’ mantra quote, knowing oneself leads into building a brand and ultimately building an organization. Core messages, targeted messages, visuals such as look and feel and a logo, stem from an organization knowing who they are and what they stand for. (Now where did it come from, and where is it going?)

I’m hooked. It’s realizing the essence of the self but applied to a non-human entity.

It seems that in studying both content strategy and brand identity, one recurring goal is highlighted as essential to succeeding in your objectives. This goal is having a content strategy statement, carefully selected word-for-word, and having a tagline, also carefully selected word-for-word, both meant to represent a project or brand going forward. The weight of each word and phrase is enormous, and much thought needs to go into choosing the verbs and nouns used in content strategy statements and taglines. If you know who you are and what you stand for, you should be able to develop a content strategy statement or tagline much more easily than if you didn’t.

One manifestation of knowing your brand is the development of characters to represent in a familiar form (usually an animal, if not a human being) the brand. Historically, these characters hold a lot of weight. They became and have become cultural icons that children and customers both cherish. If you stop to think about their significance in the time period in which they were born, these characters might also (if they were real) have a lot to say about the world and things like war, capitalism, etc.

I’m referring to Uncle Sam, aiding in the sale of war bonds, who actually became a character because of the consumers, rather than the company coming up with the idea first. I’m talking about Aunt Jemima, affiliated with pancake mix and syrup, but also with an awful part of American history. I have to give the nonhuman characters some recognition as well: consider Elsie the Cow, beloved amongst all whole milk drinkers who helped revitalize Borden Dairy during a pricing war with its competitors, and the Energizer Bunny, power source of children’s toys and household useful things all over the world.

These brand characters have a place in history, almost as much as the human designers behind them do. That’s monumental. They’re fictional, and they’re made up, but they made it into the memories and lives of generations. This is how branding is powerful and permeating.

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