Beyond Branding


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"Beyond Branding" is written by members of The Medinge Group

Chapter summary

Anthropology and the Brand

Ian Ryder

“To manage brands is to manage society—if we can capture a moment it is surprising the catalytic changes we can make.”

Anthropology may seem like a strange word to be including in a book that seeks to push the leading edge of brand thinking, yet the only strange thing is the extent to which it has previously been ignored. As the social science that studies the origins and social relationships of human beings, it is a central discipline that explains much of how brands work through the many societies and cultures across the world.

The word ‘anthropology’, perhaps, has poor brand image itself as it sends images of apes, hominids and the old TV zoologist Desmond Morris. Yet despite his TV image, Desmond Morris was one of the leading anthropologists of his day, writing such books as The Naked Ape in which he points out: ‘Homo sapiens has remained a naked ape nevertheless; in acquiring lofty new motives, he has lost none of the earthy old ones. This is frequently a cause of some embarrassment to him, but his old impulses have been with him for millions of years, his new ones only a few thousand at the most—and there is no hope of quickly shrugging off the accumulated genetic legacy of his whole evolutionary past.’

In other words, when we are considering brands and people, to ignore our history is to ignore our humanity. Although the targets of our brand may pretend to be advanced beings, those earthy motives keep re-appearing. To be brand masters, we must see people as evolving creatures that are doing the best they can, within their limiting evolutionary constraints. Most importantly, to understand the drivers, conscious and unconscious, of both ourselves and our customer/stakeholder is critical to optimising business performance.

Key Thought Summary

• We are not long out of the trees. We are victims of this recent evolutionary history.
• To manage anything to do with people requires a deep understanding of what drives us.

Outer systems
• Evolution is a system of inaccurate copying and survival.
• This also happens with companies and brands.
• Brands must evolve with their targets. Brand death is always around the corner.
• Brands are both socially constructed and contribute to the construction of society.
• Social responsibility and transparency is no long an option.

Inner systems

• We are driven by deep needs, values, emotions and simplistic mental models.
• Meaning is not inherent—it is inferred through the colours of our deep systems.
• To work with people means working with these systems.
• We measure brands to understand, create desired behaviour and to manage gaps.

Outer construction
• We should build our companies to align our people (and our channels) with the brand.
• We can also align the systems that affect customers and other stakeholders.
• In the end, we must dynamically align our brands with society, lest it leaves us behind.

Read more in the full book

Next chapter:The Brand Manifesto