The brand and the elephant – the devil is in the detail.

You are probably familiar with the old story of the six blind men and an elephant: it appears in many versions in eastern culture and theology. In brief, six blind men encounter an elephant, one touches its side and declares an elephant is like a wall, another grabs its leg and asserts it is like a tree, the third finds the trunk and decides the animal resembles a snake… and so it goes on. The analogy is often used to discourage dogmatic approaches, but it can also be helpful in considering a brand and all its manifestations.

Peoples’ first encounters with a brand can be diverse: a telephone enquiry, a piece of literature, an email, sight of a pack, a TV interview with the CEO or a critical tweet from a colleague. We all visualise the perfect encounter we would like between brand and customer, but the reality may be far removed. This why it is critically important to pay attention to each detail of the marketing mix: they must each make sense in terms of the brand logic.

The story of the CEO ‘phoning his office when away to check how well the calls are answered should be redundant these days –  such obvious details should be a thing of the past. However, the principle is a sound one. It is important to step outside the brand at times and assess all those details of the brand proposition. If, like one of our blind men, I only touch one part of your brand, it is fair for me to assume that this is representative of your whole offer.

Poem by John Godfrey Saxe’s ( 1816-1887) based upon the famous Indian legend,

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!


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