The Physics of Brand

Rita J. King
October 9, 2017

The future of brands from expert Aaron Keller

More and more, brands are up in our business. But what ARE brands? THE PHYSICS OF BRAND is a book co-authored by Aaron Keller, Renée Marino and Dan Wallace. Aaron stopped bylast week, and I asked him a few questions.

What is a brand?

A brand is a vessel of trust and meaning, filled by all the experiences you have with that brand. Brands live in our memories and only die when they leave the collective memory of society. Hence, we see brands like Shinola being brought back to represent the hard, gritty, maker attitude of Detroit.

What interests you about brands?

My personal interest is how they are all around us, but rarely considered for the impact they make on society. Only when we consider a world without brands does it become clear why they exist not merely as shortcuts to decisions or labels of identification, but as trusted members of society. They’ve been a curiosity of mine because of how they’re banished or labeled dead, like Nokia or Blackberry. And, when they thrive, they are assigned profound value inside corporations and tattooed on human bodies. Brands are everywhere, yet because they only exist in our memories, they exist nowhere. Brands are a curious human invention.

Your book focuses mostly on big, recognizable brands. What is a personal brand?

Yes, the book uses big brands to help everyone relate to the ideas, models and concepts we’ve articulated. Personal brands are a recent adaptation of the thinking behind brand management, applied to us as individuals. If we go back far enough in history, we see the point when the first brand was invented to represent a family name selling olive oil across the Mediterranean Sea. Now, we’ve evolved to a place where international brands are managed by teams of people. And, in a twist, we’ve turned the brand management principles back on ourselves to help us manage our own brand. It is a method for self reflection on who we are, how we want to be seen and the steps one might take to build a more memorable brand. It seems appropriate that this personal brand movement parallels the gig-economy.

What did you hope to achieve by writing this book?

We saw a flaw in the way brands are valued and had a desire to move our thinking forward. The deep thinking we did on this was directly connected to finding a better way, from both the finance world and the marketing community. That’s why three authors in design, finance and advertising made such a great team to accomplish this work. We hoped to move the thinking forward and thus far, I think we have.

If you saw the ideal pair of people reading this book, who would they be and why?

That’s easy, the CFO and CMO forming a book club with their respective teams and reading this book would be our ideal pairing. These two worlds are often continents apart and really need to be getting to a better understanding of intangible value and specifically, brand value. If upwards of 80% of the value of a corporation is in intangible assets, it makes sense for more communication between finance and marketing to understand why and how to make better decisions to build it.

What does the future of brand look like to you?

There have been many times when the “age of brands” is going to end and we’ve heard it again recently with the age of Amazon. Brands represent a large percentage of our intangible economy and will never go away, in my view. A world without brands is a sad, economically depressed, boring place where everything is a commodity and nothing has intangible value. I see the future of brand in a bright light, with more focus on the experiences people have versus the ads they’re fed. I see a world where brands are beholden to the promises they make and the power is in our hands as people to hold them accountable. And, when brands do take a more authentic stance, they will become powerful forces in society, for the good of everyone.

Our client Patagonia is an iconic example of this behavior. We expect more of Patagonia and they deliver with advocacy, products and a higher degree of authenticity than many brands.

Writing a book is a challenging endeavor, with three authors it must have been three times the challenge. What got you up in the morning and excited to do what you did?

We work really well together, but more important, we each knew our roles in the effort. Dan Wallace was the primary editor and referred to himself as Sherman. He’d roll through the content, burning villages and paragraphs of content. I was the primary writer and we wrote around 160,000 words to get to a final 70,000 words in the book. Renee was the primary researcher and provider of intellectual content throughout the writing process.

My excitement comes from the learning, writing, exploring and learning some more. It is an exhausting process to write a book, but if you know the rewards at the finish, you can’t help but keep going. This effort was significant, brands are complex systems with so many variables to consider, so it took great thinking to craft a book going this deep into the world of brands.

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