A short series of musings that use Wisconsin icons to illustrate brand concepts.
In 1997, a famous article by business writer Tom Peters coined the idea of a personal brand. “Brand You” is ultimately the promise that you as an individual represent to the marketplace of employers, colleagues, and interested bystanders. In the case of creative artists, though, personal brands can truly become brands in every sense of the world.
Two talented folk from the early part of the twentieth century in Wisconsin nicely illustrate one of the key ideas about brands.
Here’s one of those artists. You’re probably familiar with the person’s remarkable range of novels made into famous movies and musicals, like Giant, Cimarron, Showboat and more; hit Broadway plays still being revived today like Dinner at Eight; and renowned for wit as part of the Algonquin Round Table and honored with a Pulitzer Prize. Chances are you know some of those titles, but not the common thread of the author’s name.
So how about this one? Architect of the Fallingwater residence overlooking a stream in a Pennsylvania wood, the Guggenheim Museum accenting the East Side of New York City; Taliesin West nestled in the deserts of Phoenix; and Prairie-style private homes sited across the nation. I bet you not only know the name, but can even picture the person.
The first is Edna Ferber. The second is Frank Lloyd Wright. Ferber is like a house of brands, similar to Proctor and Gamble, where people know Tide and Gillette but don’t connect all the pieces. Wright is like a branded house similar to Harley-Davidson, where the passion is with the overall brand, a passion that carries over to whatever has been created beneath it.
Why did Ferber’s novels remain better known than she? Why does Wright’s reputation rise far higher than any single design? If you were creating your own personal brand, would you rather be a Ferber or a Wright?
Often, companies must make decisions on how they want to present the results of their creativity. Which approach will create the most value? Which will open the most doors over time?
Generally a company will seek to emphasize the overall brand when it is focused on delivering a common promise to a similar group of customers, like Disney’s promise of good, clean family fun or BMW’s of driving performance. Alternately, if a company seeks to deliver distinctive promises to different consumer segments, it will seek to emphasize individual product brands. This is the path taken by General Motors and Proctor and Gamble.
Depending on the situation and goals, either approach might be right. But the approach taken will determine what gets remembered and where the value lies.
Which, to come full circle, is why people still license the image of Frank Lloyd Wright, but Edna Ferber’s value remains solely in her individual works.