Brand Strategy

On Branding: Your Brain and Your Mouth Aren’t on Speaking Terms

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Bill Winchester


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At LSB we talk and think a lot about brands.

We look at brands, we study brands, we have debates about brands. If there’s a book on branding, an article on branding or something posted on branding, we’ve probably read it or written it. We talk and think about brands. Like I said, A LOT.

Despite all of this examination we have to admit a brand is still a very ephemeral thing. It’s slippery, foggy and hard to define. Is a brand a promise? Is it a compelling truth? Is it a belief system? Or is it something that has a “soul?” Is it a tribe? A community? Well, it’s sort of all of those things—and at the same time, none of those things.

If you strip away all of the lingo and a good deal of bullshit, a brand is simply a collection of things that form a pattern over time. Having a brand that matters to people is incumbent on creating a pattern that makes people feel something.

The feeling part is where the problem begins. When people are asked to describe a brand they tend to use words that sound a lot like “love.” Emotional sounding words. Feeling words.

The problem is, describing love and feelings with words is impossible.

Why is this?

Your brain isn’t wired that way. Love and brands are both in the part of the brain that handles emotion. And words are in the part of the brain that handles, well… words. The two parts aren’t well connected. It’s like turning on a light switch in your kitchen and music starts playing in the attic. The result is, when we try to describe an emotion, we fail.

Given that a lot of brand presentations are in “decks” comprised of words on a screen, words in a binder, and charts—lots of charts … oh, and graphs, diagrams and consumer profiles. All helpful at some level, but you’re always left feeling like you’re standing outside the brand room looking in through very foggy windows. That’s because you’re using words to describe an emotion.

What’s the answer?

First, realize that your brain, your wonderful emotional brain, isn’t wired to your mouth. Your emotional brain FEELS things. Your mouth speaks things. They aren’t the same things. Emotions are felt and can’t be described well. Brands are largely emotional and are felt.

Don’t abandon the charts, graphs and diagrams, but use them as a very rough map and realize there are no graphs, no charts and no words that can adequately define what you’re trying to communicate emotionally.

Second, realize the emotional part of the brain IS wired to your visual, auditory and olfactory centers. Visuals and music are things we feel, not think. They’re also difficult to describe, but we know it when we see it, hear it or smell it.

Given these two things, communicating the essence of a brand is probably best accomplished using the things that are wired to emotion. In other words, abandon the logical stuff. Mood boards are a start. But even better: film. Film uses the dimensions that allow people to feel with music, sound and visual content. We haven’t figured out smell yet, but we’re working on it.

At LSB we make brand films to help define the emotion the brand conveys. The emotional pattern that all of the content, communication, packaging and experiences that the brand can communicate to make it matter emotionally to people. Whether that’s joy, pathos, accomplishment, fear, optimism or a myriad of other emotions that can only be felt.

How do we know we’ve hit the right chord?

We look for tears. Tears of laughter, joy, or simply when people recognize a universal truth. This is why when we show one of these films, we wait 15 seconds to turn on the lights. We usually hear applause and if we don’t get any of these things, we know we need to start over. That rarely happens.

Film goes directly into the part of the brain that can actually process emotion. The words spoken afterwards are things like “killer.” Or better yet, “It struck me right in the heart.”

This is the just beginning of having a brand that matters. You certainly can’t say, “There, we’re done.” But it provides the gooey emotional center of the brand. If the stuff your brand is doing doesn’t vector to that emotional center it will be hard to have it matter to people.

(For examples of LSB’s brand films, go here and here.)

Bill Winchester


Has actually won a bagpiping contest.

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Brand Strategy

Brand strategy isn’t something we do from time to time, it’s one of the cornerstones of our business. So we think about it a lot.

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