R. Barthes on branding – the u press network—part 1

50 years ago, a brand was almost like a product that you sold to consumers. Now, it’s a story you partner with them to create.

We all know this pretty well. Branding thought leaders focus on this concept across every industry: Ongoing meaning-making in collaboration with communities of stakeholders. Customers reject and select narrative/s more than they ever had before. They contribute more narrative/s scraps than ever before. Nutshell: Brand is in the eye of the beholder.

It always was in the eye of the beholder, but great strides are made by companies these days when their Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) stops to find out what the beholder is beholding, first. Successful firms track and guide conversations to capture a gestalt of needs (met and unmet) in order to assess current brand value and to find new opportunities.

Roland B.

Each intro text to branding (e.g., Mythologies, I say with tongue only slightly in check) covers the basics of the making of meaning; i.e., how a single word or symbol (a “logos,” logo, or brand) is tied to myriad narratives/beliefs about that word or symbol. Added all up, all the stories we know about X defines X …for us. Expand the group to include everyone in a market or industry, and shift X to a brand, and the meaning or value of the brand is the sum total of all narrative/s that relate to the brand in the market.

In the most extreme sense, the brand itself is meaningless, until we bring meaning to it, like stone soup. (One caveat: stone soup without flavor doesn’t exist; categorically, that’s just a rock in a bucket.) Some call this flavor- or meaning-making signification; others call it branding.

The important part is that signification or branding (meaning-making) is ongoing and never stops; the stone soup is always changing flavor—depending on who’s adding narrative scraps to it. Meaning is always being created (except in Alphaville).

Some add and attract narrative; others have narrative thrust upon them. That’s what we call culture. You can guide it and influence it, but you can’t make it hold still.

The U Press Network

All these ideas apply to the brands of individual u presses. Brilliant marketers across the network are applying them famously with great success. I’ve been thinking about the network as a whole. And not about the AAUP, which is also guided by brilliant marketers. But if you dig down a little deeper you get to the network itself: what is it; why is it; and what are all of the narratives about it currently adding up to; i.e., what is the existential value of The U Press Network—in the eyes of the beholders?

This would be the subject of a fascinating market research study, and an exhaustive approach would call for complex voice of customer. If any know of such a study having been completed, or would like to partner on one, please let me know. Meanwhile, I am going to hazard some summary analysis of adducible trends or views shared in the media.

The U Press Network has experienced tectonic change/s of late (last few decades); just for starters, the category that it belongs to has been altered. The U Press Network has had narrative/s thrust upon it. We can’t hold things still, any more than we can go back and un-change the category; but, we can influence them, and we should.

Whenever a traditional landscape experiences tectonic shifts, Black Swan opportunities arise. Good and bad things can happen—and they usually do; but, strangely enough, the good things only happen when you go after them; the bad things walk right up, bite you on the bottom, and say We’re here.

Many are discussing Points of Parity and Difference these days, across the category. I thought I’d wrangle a few to see if they reveal ways to avoid the bad and target the good. I’ll cover individual attribute in separate posts to see what compelling PODs they suggest.