Tribal Branding

I was having a lively discussion with my colleagues over drinks about the meaning of the term "brand." One person stated that the word is watered down and no longer carries much meaning. I sit in the camp that believes that a brand is not just logos and assets, it's a company's promise. A brand is an expected experience and it is in the eyes of the beholder.

Later that evening, I was at the grocery store, and as I was wheeling my groceries out to my car, I saw a man packing groceries into his. He was an "odd-looking guy". He wore large, outdated glasses, he had feathered hair, tapered jeans and these big, clunky red sneakers. But the interesting thing was his T-shirt, that said, "World's Coolest Dad." I did a double take. I chuckled and muttered, "Really?" But then I thought about his children. I imagined three small children excitedly presenting him with the shirt for his birthday. I thought about their faces lighting up as they sang to him and his sense of pride as he accepted their gift. And yes, you skeptics, I realize he could have bought the shirt from the DAV for himself, but I like my story better.

Then it hit me. I was mostly right about the meaning of brand being in the eyes of the beholder, but I missed something important—brand is fluid and will mean different things to different people. To some, your brand may mean nothing (and that's OK). When I saw the World's Coolest Dad in the parking lot, I questioned his "promise." Maybe he was cool when Magnum P.I. was, but now? His particular brand didn't carry the same meaning with me as with his children because that's his tribe. His tribe believes he's the coolest dad in the world, '80s hair and all. That's the important part of this discussion: Your brand doesn't need to be understood by everyone, just your tribe.

If your tribe were to present your company with a T-shirt on its birthday, what would it say?