A map of modern brand building


A map of modern brand building

David Carr

In a connected world where new forces and technologies promise to “change everything” at least twice daily, our oldest concept remains the most important: the brand.

Are brands still relevant when anyone can become one? Are they just totems or fetishes we cling to, exhibiting what Tainter called “diminishing returns”, as large groups of people craft that perfect positioning statement?

I’d argue that brands are more important than ever. But what actually makes a brand? How do they create value for businesses?

Battles are being fought about this in books, research papers, blogs and keynotes. When you listen in on the arguments between the “geeks of big data”, the “cultists of digital engagement” and the “recidivists of the big (TV) idea”, it often seems that they are saying the same thing with different words (and different agendas).

Perhaps George Box can have the last word on this?

"All models are wrong, but some are useful"

In the spirit of Box, and after a few chats with some colleagues at Digitas and others (accompained by my scribbling of flows and diagrams), I thought I’d try to bring some of this debate — and more importantly evidence — together in a concept map.

It’s a complex map of a simple truth: Distinctive, emotionally-powerful work that cuts-through with more buyers than your competition, consistently and in the long-term, builds great brands and revenue.

The gut feelings of the classic creative directors and planners — the Trotts and AdContrarians — were right. They were also wrong.

We shouldn’t hide from complexity but embrace it and make it work. Simple in its most ideal form, is the product of a concerted process that begins with embracing complexity.

Hunting for a single guaranteed formula for success is a fool’s errand. Rosenzweig wrote in The Halo Effect: “Anyone who claims to have found laws of business physics either understands little about business, little about physics or little about both.

The new data and empirical evidence we have for brand building can help us with clients and their boards (see Sharp, Field & others) beyond “trust me” and a couple of “selectively edited” case studies. The recent research and analysis that has gone on into effectiveness has also helped us better understand “HOW” the work works. But we must remember that we are complex people and businesses are complex systems that are forever evolving.

To paraphrase some great strategists: “Your brand doesn’t survive contact with the (consumer) enemy” or “everyone has a brand until you get punched in the face”.

Going forward brand data should be an inspiration and a support, but also we must be mindful that all data is contaminated and biased (even/especially IPA datasets drawn from Effectiveness Papers). Until the AIs take over next tuesday we need to be able to use our judgement and the evidence to our advantage and “support the irrational, risky, outlandish decisions that our heart is telling us to make”. This way we can build the brands and brand experiences with positive impact that will be relevant in the future.

This concept map is only a quick survey of some of the great thinking that is going on in our industry. It is not exhaustive. You could explode any one of the nodes and go deeper. You could wire some of it differently. It’s not right. It’s not (all) wrong.

I hope it is of some use to you.  You can download the full map here.

David Carr

David Carr


As Strategy Director at Digitas, David Carr uses a mix of brand, digital, UX, creative and coding experience to create useful, usable and delightful ideas that build effective brands and businesses.

David recently won a Gold APG Award and was named Google Planning Innovator of the Year. Formerly Planning Director and Head of UX at JWT London, David led digital strategy for clients such as J&J, Shell and HSBC. 


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