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white paper Do brands really have souls? And can we manage them? SUMMARY • Yes, Brands have souls in that they exist in an ethereal space that we cannot truly understand

• No, we

cannot really manage them — we can only manage the experiences that formulate the brand

• Great

products integrate at the deepest level — soul to soul — and become iconic brands


Laurence Bernstein has been fine tuning the art of converting features, attributes and benefits into dynamic, experiential brands for 20 years. This White Paper examines the question of the existence of “brands” and where the idea of the brand resides: in the product, in the company that makes it or in the mind of the consumer that buy or use them..


rands can and do have soul - in a

of an entity. That is to say, the essence, or ani-

sense -- and, when understood in

mus, of the matter. When viewed in this con-

the broader context of the meaning

text, a "brand" not only has a soul, it is the soul

of "soul",

- not of a human being, but of an inanimate object (product or company).

The word "soul" derives from it's original human form, wherein, by definition, the soul is an

A brand is as ethereal and mystical as a per-

aspect of "human" existence ("the animating

son's soul, in that it does not exist; or rather, in

and vital principle in human beings, credited

that it exists only as a construct in the minds of

with thought, action, and emotion, and often

people. In this context, it may be viewed as a

conceived as an immaterial entity"). Led

part of the person's own soul - the projection of

largely by Christianity's teachings, the word

a person's own inner "self" onto the attributes

achieved for itself a theological attribute, which

of a product or company, that ultimately deter-

introduced the notion of the "soul" as separa-

mines how that person relates to that external

ble from the human body (at the time of death)

entity. This is the power of brands (positive

and the storage container of our relationship

and negative), and, to the degree that market-

with God. Clearly, in these terms a "brand"

ers understand this, offers the most effective

cannot have a soul, and to think it might, may

means of building a relationship with the con-

well be viewed as heretical.


However, a more universal meaning of the

"Brands" are not products. Nor are they Trade-

word offers a broader, although no less meta-

marks or Trust-marks. The brand is what the

physical, definition in which the soul is under-

consumer concludes about a product outside

stood to be "the central part or the vital core"

of it's functionality. A product may work fine, or

deliver the benefits I need or want. But these

Laurence Bernstein is the

facts are only components of what I ultimately

founder and managing

think of the product. In exactly the same way,

partner of Protean Strategies/The Bay Charles

a person may be tall, and know a lot of things,

“ the end whether I choose to view him as a friend, is determined

He has been a leading

ultimately think of him is more complex, and

proponent of the “new

the overlay of who I am and what I value and believe. In other words, my ultimate determina-

him, and becomes an holistic integration which includes those facts and my "soul."

of three components: the product (including its


tured on the subject of experiential branding and intrinsic/extrinsic research methodologies in Canada, the US and China.

tion of that person transcends the facts about

factors, plus the

value and

and has written and lec-

friend, is determined by all these factors, plus

The 'brand" is, as such, the holistic integration

am and what I

order of differentiation”

whether, in the end I choose to view him as a

by all these overlay of who I

Consulting Group Limited.

and even have a bright personality; but what I

attributes and understood benefits); the company that produces it (including intrinsic values and structure); and the individual consumer (including his or her soul).

In addition to a highly successful 20 year career in advertising and marketing he held senior positions at Westin Hotels and The Canadian Restaurant Association. Laurence attended the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and Cornell University in Ithaca , New York This white-paper is based on the original paper on the subject written by Laurence Bernstein and published in Marketing Magazine in 1999.

Marketers are therefore not in complete control

In the past few years, a few inspirational mar-

of their brands. They can control only two of

keters have understood that the company is as

the three components: the product and the

much a part of the brand as it's product. These

company. Historically, marketers have under-

organizations, and I include The Body Shop,

stood their function only in terms of the prod-

Snapple and Roots in this group, understood

uct, and have concentrated on building prod-

that they could help the integration process in

ucts they believe will meet consumers needs

the soul of the consumer, by neatly packaging

and desires, and subsequently communicating

the product information in contexts that would

these facts to the appropriate "target group."

include information about the values of the

Various levels of sophistication have driven

company. They believed, and rightly so, that if

this "science" into realms of advertising ex-

presented in a package that immediately

pression that include the truly great, but for the

makes sense to the consumer's "soul," they

most part are pretty dismal. Overall, this lim-

would be more successful in becoming the

ited view has resulted in the competitive land-

"friend" the consumer would want to do busi-

scape we now enjoy, with its most positive off-

ness with. This package, when executed well,

spring being the "discount addiction" that helps

is in fact a representation of the "soul of the

keep prices in line for all of us. In more recent

brand," and serves the public well because it

times, this approach has lead to increased

helps us understand who we are dealing with,

quality, both of products and service. But, for

and allows us a choice, at a deep inner level,

the most part, has had very little impact on our

of who we want to do business with. When

sense of "brands."

badly executed it serves only to diminish the Page 2

“Ultimately, companies will be forced to put themselves, warts and all, on the line, so we can determine from within ourselves whether they

profits of the company, in that it will have no

Which leads us to the shadow side of this

impact on the consumer at all. And if dishon-

paradigm - when marketers, stymied by their

estly executed, it will backfire, because it talks

inability to make inroads by talking about their

to people at a deep emotional level, where

product or their company, try to influence the

bullshit doesn't stand a chance! Does the word

third component in the brand trinity - that is, try

"Nike" leap to the lips?

to influence the consumers' belief structures so

Marketers must realize that this package tran-

the companies' own (stymied) "brand" will be

scends the advertising - it must encompass

more acceptable and resonate more convinc-

everything the company does that the con-

ingly within the consumers' soul.

sumer sees (and, if they are to be successful,

In general, however, the movement toward un-

it must encompass everything the company

derstanding the soul of brands should result in

does that the consumer doesn't see, as well).

an improved, more honest environment for all

This is how the ultimate brand builder, Disney,

of us. Ultimately, companies will be forced to

became the force they are today. Anything

keep prices low to get our business, or to put

less is a waste of time and money. And even

themselves, warts and all, on the line, so we

Disney has probably taken their self-

can determine from within ourselves whether

importance to the next stage, and slipped into

they are the kind of soul we want to be associ-

the dark-side of their corporate archetype.

ated with.

are the kind of soul we want to be associated with.� Protean Strategies is a Toronto based management consulting firm specializing in developing brand strategies and providing a full range of consumer research services. Since its inception in 1997, the firm has provided breakthrough strategies for leading Canadian and US brands, including General Motors, Fairmont Hotels, Canadian Tourism Commission, American Express, Dell Canada, Energizer Batteries, Unilever , Procter and Gamble, Allstate Insurance and advertising agency partners in Toronto, Calgary, New York City, Chicago , London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Shanghai. * 416.967.3337

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Protean White Paper -- Do Brands Have Souls  

If brands have soul's do they exist outside the product? Can a brand be changed if it has a Soul all of its own?

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