Marc Eckō, on branding as religion

When I was a teenager, my friends and I were obsessed with the clothing brand, Eckō Unlimited. The brand’s founder, Marc Eckō, wrote a book entitled Unlabel, in which he introduces his perspective of branding:

I am a brand, but I am not a label. My brand is Marc Eckō. You too are a brand. Whether you know it or not. Whether you like it or not. A brand is not skin-deep. Labels are skin-deep, but a brand—a true, authentic brand—is made of blood and bones, skin and organs. A brand has a heartbeat.

The anatomy of a brand, in turn, is defined by its authenticity. And just like a doctor can’t describe the wonders of the human body in a pithy one-line description, a brand’s authenticity can’t be clearly defined in a Twitteresque 140 characters.

Hard work is required to understand, grow, and nurture the anatomy of a brand. You can’t do it on the surface. You can’t slap on a “Brand Band-Aid.” You have to dig deep and poke around with a scalpel.

It’s different from how Debbie Millman would describe a personal brand; she might call this introspection, or building a reputation. She writes:

Now don’t get me wrong: people can certainly own brands. They can invent and direct brands and they can design, manufacture, and promote brands. But rather than manufacturing a personal brand, why not build a reputation? Why not develop our character? Imagine what we could learn from each other if we felt worthy as we are instead of who we project ourselves to be. Imagine if we could design a way to share who we are without shame or hubris.

Eckō also shares a fascinating worldview on branding, one that I’d previously articulated with the Kanye West Religion. He writes:

Building a brand is like creating your own personal religion. You need to be willing to fight for it, defend it, die for it. It involves being something of a zealot. Honestly? I would have preferred to call this book Creating Your Own Religion, but the world is too sensitive to use religion as a metaphor for branding. But religions brand all the time. The Sistine Chapel? Now that’s branding—it puts Apple’s retail stores to shame. Glass cube storefront? Whatevs.

A team needs to take branding this seriously in order to succeed with it. It needs to not only believe that the need for a brand (a religion!) matters, but to also stand up for specific values and ideas and tie them into the product. (If its leaders are brand atheists, that’s just a different kind of brand.)

Eckō would build out other businesses—including the runaway success Complex media.

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