Brand is a multifaceted term with a myriad of definitions. So how do we begin to understand it? Is the brand the material elements – the ‘things’ (products, logo, imagery) – or is the brand the ideas – the ‘concepts’ (values, meanings, purpose)? Well, I suggest that a brand isn’t any one of those – it’s all of them and more.
It is in the combination of ‘things’ and ‘concepts’ that we can begin to understand how a brand is formed, and reformed. If considering these ‘things’ and ‘concepts’ as parts of a network we might appreciate the brand, and how in their multiple interactions a brand might evolve.
In simple terms viewing a logo might spur a memory of a previous experience, which might have been shaped by a physical space, that was created to embody the values of the brand. This network of ‘things’ and ‘concepts’ is shaping, and reshaping, an environment which is the brand.
The combination of ‘things’ and ‘concepts’ are described as a ‘material-semiotic’ method – a mapping of relations that are simultaneously material (between things) and semiotic (between concepts). This approach to considering brand utilizes a theory called Actor-Network Theory.
Actor–Network Theory tries to explain how material–semiotic networks come together to act as a whole; the clusters of actors involved in creating meaning are both material (things) and semiotic (concepts). In this application of Actor-Network Theory the ‘whole’ that is created is the brand.
This network (brand) is perpetually in development, being constantly made and remade. As such, relations need to be repeatedly ‘performed’ or the network (brand) will dissolve. More specifically, if the relations between ‘things’ (logo, products, etc) and ‘concepts’ (values, meaning, etc) cease to happen then the brand no longer exists. When considering a brand as network, created through the relations of ‘things’ and ‘concepts’, it is only ever in process and perpetual development.
When considered as a part of the network (brand) each element is as important as the other, each as vital to the success of the brand. The logo is just as important as the values which are just as important as the product, and so on. This network approach can also help explain the performativity of people in shaping and reshaping a brand. When considering a brand as a network through Actor-Network Theory, once people engage with the actor-network they become a part of the web of relations. Their actions become a part of the shaping and reshaping of the brand.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Paul Bailey, 1977 Design & Brand Consultancy
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