When people ask me what I do, there's a pause as I search once more for the words to describe the work, the process, the experience. The happening, if you like, that takes place when I am engaging with others on behalf of my business. Even here, I'm struggling to find the words to convey it completely and accurately.
The best I've come up with so far to describe my sphere of operation is the term 'brand experience'. But very few people I speak to have any idea what I mean by that! So each time I'm asked, I search again for the right words in the hope of finding a better fit. Rarely am I successful.
Maybe the right words don't (yet!) exist in the English language. And I certainly don't have the language skills to know whether there's another culture – one more deeply steeped in experience than the mind-orientated western cultures I've lived in – that has it well covered. The chances are that such a culture, such a language, does exist. If you know of words that do convey what I've set out below, whatever the language, I'd love to hear them.
For now, however, I'm left telling people how I work in branding and positioning, but not the branding that most people think of, which is focused on pretty graphics and logos. No, it's about how that brand is perceived by the audience, yet not in a manipulative way. It's about how you represent what an organisation really stands for, believes in, wants to embody in the world.
It means that the products and offerings (the things people most often associate with a brand) are just a tool of expression, not an end in themselves. And what they are and how they're offered may well change as a result of my work. As might the staffing requirements to support the refined vision, or sustainability policies, or any other aspect of business. It's a process that starts with 'who' and 'why' and 'for whom' but spreads out to every corner of operation, every touchpoint with the outside world, every opportunity to build trust and reputation.
Using the terminology of one of the leading thinkers in this area, Seth Godin, it's about re-orientating the organisation to properly and authentically serve its true fans, its tribe.
Yet even that long-winded diatribe doesn't fully cover it. What it fails to convey is the deep connection developed during the process of uncovering exactly what the people I work with value. About themselves, about their organisation, about their target audience, their users, their consumers, their customers. I'm stood right alongside them (physically or virtually) as they delve inwards and see the pieces of a very personal jigsaw coming together in front of their eyes. A jigsaw they immediately recognise as completely familiar, yet in most cases haven't ever seen laid out so clearly. It is a very, very cool process, and it's an honour to be in a position to do such work. I'm not just saying that, I really mean it, really feel it.
It's why I hesitate to call them clients. That's another word that fails miserably to convey the relationship that I – and the many thousands of others who've led the way into this deeper way of being alongside those we support – get to experience. Are they partners? Too formal. Are they friends? Some might become friends, but that's a little too familiar when starting out. Again, I can't easily find the right words.
Which brings me to the final side of what I'm currently calling brand experience. And that's the experience of those inside the organisation. That process I've just outlined, the exploration of what lies at the core of an organisation and its individuals, really is the inside view of brand experience. What I mean is that during the discovery process itself, the brand is being reborn, reshaped, forged into a stronger, more authentic, more resilient version of itself. And being engaged in that rebirthing process is part of the brand experience.
So I currently call it brand experience. The experience that the brand in all its forms (people, place, product, content, design...even sound and smell!) conveys to those who have contact with it, whether inside or outside the organisation.
And maybe that's the closest I'll ever get to fully expressing what I do. Though it probably won't stop me searching for a better way to express the experience the next time I'm asked. The search for the words that truly, properly, completely convey what this work means to me, and to those I have the privilege of working with.