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Is Branding Art, Science, Or A Whole Lot Of Both?

Branding has the power to turn a humdrum consumer product into a beloved, can't-live-without-it, emotional experience. Is this dark art based on mastery of data or channeling of creativity?

For many businesses, branding is some kind of dark art in which creative folks dressed in black conjure logos and taglines out of thin air. For others it appears to be the result of smart people in clinical whites working with hoards of hoards of data and computations to develop a smart, rational branding plan. In reality, it's a bit of both. To paraphrase branding guru Kevin Lane Keller, branding isn't rocket science—it's an art and a science. Here's how to combine elements of both to create success.
1. Combine qualitative and quantitative research.
To get deep insights into what consumers want, you need first to perform qualitative research, such as anthropological studies, focus groups, and observational research. Qualitative research is crucial in understanding the "how" and "why" of consumer buying behavior. But that's just the start; you need to layer quantitative research on top of that. Only large sample size studies can tell you if what you found out in the qualitative research findings are representative of the larger population and the size of various segments.

2. Find emotional purchase drivers, then back them up with logical reasons to buy.
Our brains are made up of two parts—the frontal cortex, which provides us with logic, and the limbic system, which drives our emotions. The limbic system developed much earlier in our evolution, while the frontal cortex came later. As a result, most of our thinking occurs in the limbic system and, given the strengths of our emotions, it often overrules the logic of the frontal cortex. So it's crucial to use your research to develop powerful emotional purchase drivers to engage the buyer. But that's not enough. Logical reasons to buy are important as well. This is because buyers often make an emotional decision but then use their frontal cortex to develop a "logical alibi" with which they can justify their purchase. So both are key.

3. Find a unique positioning.
There's an art to doing this. One can sift through all the data but it often takes creativity backed by boldness to be different. Imitating the competition may be the highest form of flattery but it's the lowest form of brand strategy. Instead, you must follow Coco Chanel, creator of the iconic Chanel brand, who said, "In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different."

4. Turn the brand into an experience.
Again, this takes art and science. Creativity comes into play when developing a set of integrated experiences that transform your brand from just a product to be purchased into a brand to be desired and loved. But it also takes exacting rigor and detailed work to ensure all the brand touchpoints are covered and reinforce one another. The latter is no simple task, especially when one is dealing with an international brand.

5. Ensure that brand success equals financial success.
Much care must be taken, especially in the pricing area, to ensure that all the work that went into creating a brand people love also leads to a brand people pay for. One must make the calculations and projections necessary to determine the right pricing, but science also comes into play as well. This is because we know from research that a product's price delivers a message about quality and identity that either reinforces or detracts from the desired brand image.

The combining of art and science is not easy and it requires a special team to execute it successfully. But if one can pull it off it will result in a powerful and iconic brand that drives your profits for years to come.

[Image: Flickr user Diego Sevilla Ruiz]

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  • Bronson Ma

    Well said. This is also very true for B2B brands as well and even though the approach might be different, how you get there is still the same. –Bronson Ma, Bronson Ma Creative (

  • Jbaladi

    You have missed the point. Whilst "branding" requires both art and science, it is anchored on identity and values. What makes "branding" singulalry relevant and compelling to consumers is the WAY it is created and the manner in which it is MAINTAINED. It is created from within the organization much as an individual decides on his/her own identity and values (not by a removed 3rd party) and it is maintained through an organizational culture and structure that allows the company to DELIVER on the identity and the consumer promise. Powerful brands always reflect the will, intent and heart of organizations. The rest are merely tools - as important they are.

  • Mark McNeilly

    The way you get to the identity and values is understanding not only your capabilities but also through a deep understanding of the customer and the competition. You get there through the mixture of qualitative (art) and quantitative (science) research and analysis.

  • tomhardy_00

    Mark - Your article's 5 points are concise and hit on the key elements of the holistic brand- building process. Nice job! -- Tom Hardy / Verbal-Visual Framework