Burnishing the Brand

Branding is more than upholding the good name you built for yourself. It's also upholding your image -- whether that image is good or "dangerous."

Branding has become so important, and so important in representing our commercial stakes, that even the Hells Angels now make sure that their image remains pure, in a manner of speaking. The club sues often to protect how it is represented.

According to a New York Times article on this litigious phenomenon, the group has morphed from rebel gang to, well, commercial force: "Over the years, the group collectively made a leap from image to brand, becoming a recognizable marque and promoting itself on items as varied as T-shirts, coffee mugs and women's yoga pants."

Well, nothing says outlaw like Hells Angel yoga pants.

The Hells Angels might be aggressive in protecting what they regard as the sanctity of their brand, but if the group itself allows a diluting of its brand what is it really protecting? Most likely its ability to monetize its image.

That's where branding becomes less about integrity than about commercial viability.

Think of the brands you respect, and think how they've held up, or how they've maintained that image that you hold of them. What comes to mind with certain brands? Does Apple still represent high-quality, beautifully designed products? Does Nike represent topnotch sports shoes?

Think of brands that seem to have weakened. Does anyone think that Abercrombie & Fitch is a label worth wearing? Or has it become a purveyor of cheap-seeming yet overpriced sporty clothes for unsuspecting buyers? Does Walmart represent quality at affordable prices or have its troubles as an employer affected how people see its products?

What about your own brand? Are you shaping it to represent a certain way of doing business, a certain service, a certain level of quality? What would happen if opportunities for commercialization -- your very own brand of yoga pants, for example -- happened also to represent a kind of coarsening of your message? Would you take on the deal for the money, or would you find another way to monetize what you represent?

I work a lot with authors and marketers on refining their message, building their brand and expanding their audience. In our age of branding, what the brand actually says -- and how it evolves -- is more important than ever.