Philosophy & Branding

Philosophy & Branding - The brand which is unexamined is not worth having by Chris W. Hubbard

Do you have a good brand?
How do you know it's good? 

Have you ever thoroughly examined your brand in order to determine if it’s as good as you say it is? If you haven't, then Socrates—one of the founders of western philosophy—would have said that your brand isn't even worth having. A brand not worth having doesn’t sound so good.

Socrates was a 5th-century Athenian philosopher who developed a powerful form of argument—often referred to as the Socratic or dialectic method—which was inevitably used as the starting point for the development of the scientific method and all of western philosophy. If such a powerful method could improve science and philosophy, perhaps it can be used to evaluate brands as well.

Here's what the Socratic method might look like in this scenario:

Even though Socrates never wrote any books, or defined any theories of his own, he did ask a LOT of questions. It was this style of relentless questioning, that led to the creation of a new way of examining what we think about ourselves, and our perceptions. He was the first philosopher to focus almost exclusively on this type of self-examination of ideas and values.

How often is your brand honestly and relentlessly examining it's ideas and values—asking difficult questions to uncover the real way people within the brand think about themselves, their products and communications, and the actual brand perceptions that exist in the marketplace? How often are you digging into the disconnects between the way you see your brands versus the way others actually perceive them.

Most brands are too scared to ask questions that threaten to disturb the comfortable branding bubbles built and supported around them. And yet, without "going there" most brands will never really achieve the type of success genuinely desired for them.

Socrates believed that understanding who we are right now—honestly and authentically—is the first and most important task. His central concern became the examination of life, and his method of direct and ruthless questioning of people's most cherished beliefs made him the enemies who ultimately sentenced him to death.

The fear that many of us feel within our organizations—about asking too many questions, or revealing wrong, displeasing information—is real and valid. Start to imply your brand is in trouble, or that it's not as grand as is claimed, could—in many organizations—cost you your job. But that only reveals a bigger, more dangerous fear—the fear of the real.

For Socrates, understanding reality was a process of questioning the meaning of essential concepts that we use every day but have never really thought about. For example, what is the real meaning of the word brand? Is it even useful or meaningful anymore? Is there a better word we could be using to communicate the modern meaning? 

This type of questioning, Socrates believed, would reveal real meaning, and our own lack of knowledge or ignorance. Only this would help us to eventually achieve true peace-of-mind by allowing us to do the right things; as opposed to simply living—or branding—according to false perceptions or deep-rooted working culture.


Socrates was one of the first philosophers to evaluate what it meant to "be good." He believed that virtue was the most valuable possession and that no one actually desires to be, or do bad. According to him, anyone doing "the wrong thing" would actually be acting against their conscience and eventually feel uncomfortable about it. Since we all strive for peace-of-mind, "the wrong thing" isn't something we do willingly. People do the wrong thing, simply because of a lack of wisdom or knowledge.

It's hard to think there are any brands out there intentionally trying to be a "bad brand." Brands don't try to do "the wrong thing", or be unsuccessful. Bad brands become this way, simply by means of perceptions they are unaware of.

Socrates concluded that there is only one good: knowledge. And only one bad: Ignorance.  Which is why we must continuously examine our lives—and brands—in search of new knowledge that helps us to reshape perceptions. Otherwise—according to Socrates—they just aren't worth having.