Perfection is death. Reserved for gods, not mortals.
David Foster Wallace, a perfectionist, wrote a book that features a film called ‘Infinite Jest’. As a piece of perfect media, it is so soothing and answers every desire, that it is impossible to switch off. It fully absorbs the viewer’s attention so they just sit there, sunk in their seat. They watch until they die. The lesson here appears to be that even if perfection were attainable, it might lull us into inaction.
Perfection is the enemy of action.
Action is vital
There are plenty of clever abstractions in branding – and hot air. Acting and applying ideas in the real world is so often where things fall apart. Branding needs a closer resemblance and connection to life.
Applied brand strategy is essential; strategy that can be made reality, designed to take shape in the world. What’s important is not perfect brands and notions, but distinctive brands that make meaningful contributions to culture. A future where all brands act, and specifically act with a social and cultural conscience.
The climate crisis has taught us that, if the status quo isn’t working, if we don’t like what the future holds, we can’t sit around and wait for perfect, ideal solutions. Where we can start to act thoughtfully and with purpose, for environmental and social good, don’t delay. Think hard before you act, but don’t overthink it. Don’t be anxious about having to be a brand with all the perfect answers. Every active step counts.
Often, the issue is about creating cultures, rather than being passive recipients of a future or system that someone else decided or designed. Pursue a radical or reformist agenda in why, how, and what you create.
The process, how brands make things and live on in the world, is as important as the final result.
‘Perfect’ comes from the Latin for ‘completed’. It is unrealistic and dull to think of brands as complete, not as living and responsive parts of culture. It is too narrow to think only of a brand’s end product or service, its final form in isolation.
What was unusual about a Rodin exhibition at the Tate Modern this year was how few of Rodin’s perfect marble sculptures of the human body were on display. Instead, room after room was filled with plaster casts, pencil marks, and the artist’s experimental works. The exhibition firmly insisted that Rodin’s brilliance lies also in the process of creation, in the ruptures, messy complexities, and uncertainties.
“It is unrealistic and dull to think of brands as complete, not as living and responsive parts of culture. It is too narrow to think only of a brand’s end product or service, its final form in isolation.”
Brands shouldn’t be divorced from their making. They should be connected, responsible, and transparent about how something is made, materials sourced, produced, and distributed. Brands should take an empowering and caring role in the communities they draw on and are made in. Norlha is a slow, sustainable, and ethical luxury fashion and homewares brand selling items that are handwoven from Yak wool by nomads turned artisans in Tibet. Rooted in Ritoma’s community, the brand has organically led to the continuity and flourishing of craft and culture, giving people livelihoods, new futures, and a voice in a time of change.
The arts and crafts movement spoke of the joy to be found in labor for a craftsman. In The Stones of Venice, John Ruskin looked at the rough and vivid carvings of Venetian buildings and envisaged ordinary workmen being left to their own imaginations. Whether his observation was right or not, I do think that the more everyone involved in making a brand can take pleasure, pride, and creative satisfaction in their work so much the better.
The power of making something real and its impact can’t be underestimated. But it shouldn’t be limited to the brand managers, marketers, and creative agencies. Make better, empower everyone involved. How a brand gets there – the people that make it, the community it feeds back into, the creative and productive conversations had – matter as much as the final result.
There is also the question as to what ‘perfect’ branding is trying to achieve.
Infinite growth should be dethroned as an aim
This focus on good actions and on the process and getting it right help us to reprioritize.
However, the “perfect” brand and strategy are almost invariably directed towards growth. The electrifying Silicon Valley mindset of shooting into space. Does growth always have to be the goal, the pinnacle of success? Branding certainly seems to be addicted to the idea.
I can’t help but think it misses the point. Growth at the cost of what? Never-ending growth is no longer viable. It’s unsustainable. We need to be willing to sacrifice profit for the cost of building better. It is crucial that more brands act on their philosophies, and stop making empty environmental and social promises.
I’m relieved that brands like Karma Cola exist that are focused on people and the planet, on ethical behavior, versus world domination. The brands mentioned in this article are relatively small, this enables them to maintain the integrity of their actions and be agile.
In short, be more human, not god-like in the pursuit of perfection.
Take actions that do good in the real world, and don’t be seduced by the dangers of omnipotence, omnipresence, and the divine glory of being absolutely perfect.
As Brandingmag reached its 10th anniversary this year, we’re putting together an original series that envisions a perfect future for branding. Ten articles will explore ten different sides of branding, each one through the eyes of an expert on the subject. Join our celebration and stay tuned for the next installment in the “Branding’s Perfect 10” series.
Previously: Daniela Maestres on brand architecture
(Branding’s Perfect 10 – Unique Brand Architecture)
This concludes the Branding’s Perfect 10 series.
Cover image source: Rostislav Uzunov