Brands are code


Most people don’t realize it, but brands are code. At their core level, brands have much more in common with software development than they do with logos, ad campaigns and product identities. We can think of brands as a form of software. They’re actually applications: to create unique customer value. In fact, brands should be viewed as integral to the product development process itself, as the cultural DNA of the company, rather than as a separate, multi-media “add-on” just before product launch.

This is because brands are much more than symbols, slogans and promises. Brands are programs to create customers. And as programs, they’re built of . . . code.

In this snapshot, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why brands are code, beginning at the outside and working in.

Unlocking brand code

First, some interesting similarities between brands and software:

  • Both have architectures.
  • They have roadmaps.
  • They have platforms
  • They have programs.
  • They have interfaces.
  • Brands and software are both executables.
  • They have developers, and end-users.
  • And most importantly, both are applications.

Brands have a language, too. In fact, they are written in only one language. It is called CUSTOMER. It is a language of culture. It’s not cold calculation and it’s certainly not cosmetics. In practice, its a conversation on value that’s  infinitely interoperable.

What brand builders code

At a basic level, brand builders code customer solutions into the product. In this interactive process, they also code the whole customer back into the company. This enables customer DNA to flow through a company, through its employees, operations and innovations. At a more advanced level, brand builders code new freedoms into the customer through the brand, enabling customers to rise above commodities and other brands. In effect, they create a branded customer platform that advances the customer beyond what products alone can provide.

Brands as executables

Of course, brands are not static images or frozen icons. Brands are action-oriented. They work for customers, and they get things done. In other words, brands are executables. Every brand is a “.exe.” When you execute on brand, you deliver value that customers can use. Strategically, your brand should be advancing customers beyond the reach of competitors.

How brand code works

Simply stated, brands are code for creating value. Their architectures, platforms, programs and interfaces transform latent product value into value realized by the customer. (This is no easy task.) At their best, brands do this in such satisfyingly brilliant ways that the customer leaves his or her old customer shell behind, and embraces the new brand going forward. When a great brand connects, there’s no turning back.

How exactly does a brand do this? First, brand building begins at the core of a company. Brands are not add-ons after the fact. Brands are a process of architecting customer progress into the product roadmap. Yep, the operative word is “progress.” The goal of a brand is to advance customers to progressively proactive levels, so in future months and years they will be demanding all those cool innovations you have up your sleeve. Thus, your brand strategy is part and parcel of your innovation strategy.

Cultivate brand hacks

Agile brands, like agile code, call for iterative development. This is one reason why your brand should cultivate brand hacks as part of its deployment strategy.

Photo: amysphere — Flickr

5 Responses to “Brands are code”

  1. Brands Create Customers » Blog Archive » Brands as interfaces at Dcamp Says:

    […] That’s no accident. We see brands as guiding all sorts of vital interfaces in the ways that customers are created. We’ve written about that here, here, and here. […]

  2. Brands Create Customers » Blog Archive » Tip to brand team: prototype, iterate, tweak Says:

    […] Since brands are code, and also collaborations in context, the methods 37signals employs may serve as a model for brand teams racing to develop and deploy agile brand programs. This would be especially true for collaboration-driven brands with high levels of customer interaction. […]

  3. Brands Create Customers » Blog Archive » Cultivate brand hacks Says:

    […] Brands are code. The more programmers you can enlist, the stronger your results will be. […]

  4. Ron E. Says:

    I totally agree with your idea that Brands are Code. However, I often see this not being recognized by many brand managers out there… Many still believe in a more naive idea that brands happen, without planning, without a thought out execution and strategy.

    Nice to see you capture the idea in such a great way!


  5. Brian Phipps Says:

    In brands we’re all programmers, making cool things using that nifty language called CUSTOMER. Just like you, I’ve come across a lot of people who think brands are passive, a “result” of whatever a company does. They don’t understand that brands are really proactive ways of innovating in new product and customer dimensions. I have a feeling that they will catch on only when they see more brand-aware companies surge ahead.