B+B Episode 2: Identity

It’s important to celebrate little successes.

Last week we had our second Brand+Bread meetup, at IED Innovation Lab, and I’m going to take a moment here to celebrate the fact we made time once again to come and dissect branding— this time taking apart the concept of Identity — had the patience to listen to each other once again, the interest to debate and the curiosity to question. And not only that, but some of us even managed to follow through last time’s meetup — on Brand—and write down their thoughts on what a brand is. So before we dive into the super rich conversation surrounding identity, here’s a round up of thought pieces from our small emerging community. I encourage you to read, they’re all valuable, brainy and fun.

From Lionel Malka, a thoughtful piece on whether branding as a discipline will make it through or not.

From The Colossus Time, a culturally-immersed piece debating whether brand is or could be more than a logo.

From Sara Orte Santana, a visual essay (check out all 5 posts) from Madrid’s streets on what brands should not be.

From Merlin Duff, a psychology-inspired analysis on what brand and branding are in their purest essence.

[Scroll to the end of the article to find out how to join the conversation.]

Now back to April.

We were pretty excited to have the awesome Pablo Jarauta join us and kick off our conversation with his view on the meaning and evolution of identity in today’s complex (and by complex he does not mean complicated! read on) world. Along with Pablo, we also had around the table another Pablo, Rob, Lionel, German, Silke, Isabel, Sara, Damjan, Roberto, Dario, Helga, Joana, Cristina, and yours truly. Questions to answer? How is the notion of identity changing? How is this evolution reflected in brands and the practice of branding? Is branding identity or identification? Can we, as brand practitioners, develop new tools to better understand identity? Does everyone/everything have an identity? Is it possible to create one where there is not? Where does identity live in an organisation? How can people recognise it?

Pablo on why identity is complex

My brief summary won’t do justice to Pablo’s narrative treasure hunt, and nor do I want to spoil the fun of hearing him talk live, but nevertheless, here’s some notes that stayed with me, which I hope will be thought starters for you too.

  • Nothing is stranger than ourselves. R.U.R. is a 1921 SF play by the Czech writer Karel Čapek, where the word “robot” appeared for the first time. It’s perhaps the first modern incidence of questioning one’s identity in the face of imminent artificiality.
  • Identity is complex. And by complex we’re referring to interconnectedness — the original meaning of the Latin term — and not complicated or hard, what we tend to say when we use the word complex. So identity is the interconnection of many different relationships we have in our lives: with ourselves, with others, and with the world we live in.
  • This multiplicity of relationships intertwined in our identities led to the need of customisation and further on personalisation of pretty much everything around us.
  • The identity of someone is not what you see, it’s what you feel. In the same way you don’t see a relationship between you and another person, but you feel it.
  • Because of the nature of interactions we now have in our lives, emotion is more legitimate than ever. And emotion is closely related to experience. Which is, by all means, overexploited in our industry today.
  • I can meet myself anywhere. Complexity → interconnectedness → multiplicity means that in a complex world we can identify with people that are completely different from ourselves, except for one aspect. A white Spanish teacher can be the same as an old Russian lady because they are both hard rock fans. Future of identity is de-compartmentalisation. (On a side note, check out Clay Shirky’s “Here comes everybody. Fantastic and pretty accessible read on this topic and a few others.)
  • Identity is a process, not a finished product. When you define something, you finish it. And that challenges the practice of branding — which normally aims to define and design (finished) things.

Linking identity and brand

And continuing the conversation, here’s my takeaways from the many great thoughts shared around the table:

  • In the context of identity, our job is to make people empathise with products, things, companies: creating a relationship that is felt, not only seen.
  • If completely new things are completely unrelatable (there is no empathy between them and people), then how about innovation? Is the role of innovation not to create something completely new? Or perhaps innovation is, in fact, creating something relatable, but slightly less then everything else we already have in our lives.
  • In the context of identity as a means to relate to the world, brands become the lifestyle communication of one’s identity.
  • When you’re missing a clear sense of identity, you borrow identity from the things around you that do have a strong identity: what you buy, what you wear, what you use, what you listen to. So in this context, identity is something you relate personally with, while branding is something you create in the absence of identity.
  • There is a tension creative people have: between representing the reality, and imagining something new. Which is where might the unrealistic (we’ll not call it fake) feeling of brands might come from. Perhaps a more philosophical explication is that the creative mind needs to create aspiration.

As expected, things slightly slid towards a greyish area of identity-meets-brands-meets-culture, yet equally compelling for understanding the role identity plays in creating brands.

  • Historically, (particularly in autocratic countries) it has often happened that the leader weakens his people’s need for personal identity by ‘lending’ them his own.
  • Do we crave to have leaders because we crave to have identity that we don’t have? Is that why we look up to Steves, Elons and Queen B’s?
  • Personal branding is bs. Attempt to brand one’s self is, in fact, creating a sort of meta identity. It’s reinforcing the tension between what I am and what I want to be.
  • Collective identity might not exist, only individual identity. On one hand the meaning of who the collective is is changing. And on the other, aren’t the collective experiences and beliefs, in fact, culture?

A question we’ll try answering at our next meeting, on 3rd May, when we’ll continue the deconstruction of brand with a deep dive into Culture. Sign-up for the meetup (taking place in Madrid) is available here.

If these thoughts left you pondering, I’d like to invite you, dear reader, to join the conversation by writing your own answer to the questions above. Bring in your own perspective —of a strategist, a designer, a marketeer, an end-user, a wild card, a lover or a hater. Publish your point of view on your company’s blog, here on Medium, in a tweet, an instagram photo, in a vlog or in whatever format you’re more comfortable with. We’re using #brandandbread to keep track of them.

Brand+Bread is a thought collective asking (and hopefully sometimes also answering) tough questions about the future of branding. It offers the time and space for conversation and knowledge exchange on the issues facing this discipline, hoping to evolve our thinking and practicing of it.

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Design Strategist. I analyse stuff and have opinions about it.

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Andra Oprișan

Andra Oprișan

Design Strategist. I analyse stuff and have opinions about it.

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