Whilst deliberating on content to post, I decided to touch on the concept of brand stifling, and how many brand owners are limiting their brand’s growth and reach because of it.
For the purpose of this write up;
• A brand owner can be: the founder, CEO, any member of the marketing team, an organisational body, an institution or any group of individuals tasked with ‘protecting’ and maintaining a brand’s core identity and values.
• A brand user is anyone that is able to enjoy, utilise or interact with a brand (good or service).
Due to the unusual angle that I approach this topic from, it is good to understand or agree on a definition of the root word ‘stifle’. According to Google, to stifle is to, 1.) make (someone) unable to breathe properly; suffocate. or 2.) restrain (a reaction) or stop oneself acting on (an emotion).
Applying these definitions to a brand, we can agree that stifling occurs when brand owners are ‘too jealous’ of their good or service (especially noticeable in their attempt to micro-manage every expression of their brand’s identity), that they don’t allow free organic interpretation by brand users/participants, they are said to be brand stifling.
However, on the other hand, when brands choose not to be as ‘intentional’ and allow all brand users to freely ‘reproduce’ their goods and or service(s) as they perceive it, they run the risk of being portrayed wrongly; the essence of their brand’s core message misplaced.
How then do brand owners combat the issues associated with both approaches?
1.) Brand owners must ensure that at the core, their brand content, delivery and approach, is cohesive at as many touch points as possible. The idea being that, no matter how much brand users ‘distort’ the original message, core values and brand identity, it will be clear for all to see that ‘that’ is the exception and not the norm.
2.) Brand owners should make standard brand guidelines more readily accessible-via their website for example. Taking such a step helps the brand users know their parameters. An example would be to explicitly state that the logo should always be pink and white. “Don’t complain that cars aren’t stopping, if you forget to put traffic lights at the junction.” – Joshua Komolafe
3.) Brand owners should accept that their ‘strong’ brand is being ‘marketed’ free of charge and involuntarily. Despite the revolutionary advancements in the marketing industry, word of mouth still proves to be one of the best and most effective ways of gaining and increasing a more loyal target audience. When someone other than the brand owner publicises a good or service, it appears more authentic (especially when it actually is), and causes those around them to enquire about the brand further.
Going back to the first point, if your brand is strong in itself, as enquiries are made (via the website, social media, print, face to face with staff etc.), the essence of the brand’s core message will be received, regardless of how ‘badly’ it was initially portrayed by someone else. Which, thankfully, returns the initiative back to the brand owner.
4.) Brand owners must sadly also accept, that, no matter how strong the brand is, some brand users will never fully understand to then portray your brand as you would like (exactly). The earlier this notion is accepted, the happier brand owners can and will be. This is not to say that brand owners should sit by and accept a complete misrepresentation of their brand; on the contrary, I believe that brand owners should fight for what they believe in, as much as they believe in it, for as long as they believe in it. That said, there is also wisdom in discerning when to pursue and when to “let it be”.
When I founded JFConsult Group ( The performance improvement brand education consultancy which I currently run), several brand users would often mispronounce the name; mistakenly mixing it up with my surname or adding and removing letters as it made sense to them. Initially, I would get annoyed as I corrected people but over time, I realised, “…Yes, I must continue to correct and inform as many people as I can…”, however, it should be done out of love and from a place of understanding i.e. Accepting that not everyone will fully embrace or understand, to then replicate the brand as you passionately intend them to.
5.) Taking that point a step further, brand owners must take responsibility to educate and train as many as possible, on the vision, direction and brand identity of the good or service they find themselves to be custodians over. We have reached an age where complete control over the manner in which your brand is perceived is no longer possible. In the piece of the opinion pie, now, everyone has a slice. Disregard ‘them’ at your peril.
To conclude, the best approach will involve a mixture of strategies by brand owners, depending on their industry and end goal. No one size fits all, but, we all have shoes to wear. Find your shoe, wear it and take care of it.
It is impossible to completely manage every expression of your brand. Instead, be ready for it to go through the fire and the water… Will your brand still survive?