Perception Is Truth

Creating a relevant brand experience is more complex than ever. The key to relevance lays in the purpose of your brand which has to be translated into the various touchpoints in a way that meets your target groups’ expectations. This leads to a countless number of contexts and a large variety of mindsets you have to trigger with relevant associations.

Managing a brand clearly is about decision-making. But what if “on brand” referred to the overall coherence of branded experiences rather than to visual consistency of touchpoints? And what if we assumed that “consistency” related to visibility but “coherence” was all about a perceived purpose? And shouldn’t we agree that a consistent brand experience is created as a journey and not as a one-off contact? How can someone, then, still decide on what is on or off brand in the best manner?

It all boils down to the question of what are the most relevant assets of a brand. It’s well recognized that a brand’s purpose is more powerful than any single branding element on its own. That is, the purpose represents the core idea/promise of a brand, and the design of all branding elements is deduced from this purpose. So, if we assume that the evaluation of the appropriateness of any touchpoint refers to that purpose, we can also come to a better understanding between brand management and creative departments.

The purpose as the core/promise of a brand is essentially a strong idea, which is relevant to a target group. Translating this core idea into multisensory experiences and managing them thoroughly takes substantial branding expertise. Creation-driven designers and brand managers who focus on the big picture need a common language to collaborate effectively. It takes a commonly agreed on and manageable set of attributes, wordings, and definitions to translate creative intuition into management dimensions.

But regardless of what brand management defines, what remains within the respective target group is all about how these people perceive the respective branded experience — not how you claim your brand to be. Also, a brand’s target group consists of many individuals. Hence, there is no unified perception among those addressed. However, there will arise a fuzzy common understanding of what the brand stands for and how it adds value to their lives — created by numerous experiences. This fuzziness might be disillusioning but also grants a lot of freedom. It means to hit expectations in a certain context you need to be agile enough to execute your idea in various circumstances. There are absolutes, neither to gain nor to fail. Ultimately it is all about expertise, flexibility, and bravery. The decision of on/off brand lies in the fit of a creative concept and the brands’ purpose. The guiding question should be, Does the idea trigger the right associations to create the intended perception?

Never forget, if your target group perceives you as a tomato, you are a tomato — regardless of whether you believe you’re a plum or an apple. For this reason, purpose-driven brand management and the question of whether particular branded experiences support your brand purpose are crucial to overlap your brand’s self-perception with its perception by others.

Outlook: Perception is always triggered and defined by something very human: codes. How they can be created to manage a brand and what they can achieve or destroy will be the topic of my next post, “Relevance Is Core.”

Patrick Zachries is a senior brand strategist at MetaDesign Düsseldorf.