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  • Writer's pictureMike Lawshe

Creating a Brand in an AI World

Updated: Mar 20

as seen in CSP

All around us, we see artificial intelligence (AI) influencing our lives. Using it, James Dean is in a new movie, songs are being performed by artists long gone but not forgotten, and school term papers are being spit out all across the country with little original (human) thought, much to the horror of teachers. Plagiarism has taken on an entirely new spectrum thanks to AI.

What will this mean to branding? Certainly, there are websites out there that can spit out potential retail and product brand names by the hundreds in a matter of seconds. Some might say this will be the end of branding firms like my own Paragon Solutions. But I don’t think so. I have looked at those sites, and it seems to me that they mix and match words—and nonwords—to come up with a list that hopefully will resonate with the customer. It is a glorified popularity contest. Is that how branding works? Is that the key to building an effective brand? No!

Beyond the Name

Coming up with the name is just the beginning of building a brand and, frankly, not the most important step. An effective brand creates a positive emotional connection with the customer. There are hundreds of examples in every industry, including ours, where the name is ordinary but the brand is extraordinary. There are also examples of great names that are associated with bad brands.

Recently, we’ve witnessed the collapse of the Bud Light beer brand. Call it “cancel culture” if you must, but a highly regarded brand that had a long history of positive brand recognition was destroyed. In the convenience-store industry, manufacturer Anheuser-Busch has long been recognized as a first-class organization that has helped our bottom lines with quality products.

So, what changed? The name, Bud Light, is the same. The beer itself is the same. The difference is the positive emotional connection of the brand. Social controversy severed those emotions, and in its place was negativity. It is the emotional connection that matters: What does the brand mean to the consumer? From the name, you create and build the connection through what you do and, therefore, how you are perceived.

Coming up with the name is just the beginning of building a brand and, frankly, not the most important step.

Emotional Connection

Back in 1986, I founded Paragon Solutions. At the time, I thought Paragon was the perfect name. It means “a model of excellence.” So, if you are a paragon of virtue, you are the ultimate example of being virtuous. Paragon Solutions would be the ultimate in design solutions. Pretty cool, huh? Unfortunately, very few people knew the definition of paragon, so I essentially had a blank slate. There were no automatic emotional connections for anyone; it was a hollow shell in the beginning. Thirty-seven years later, we have built the Paragon name one emotional connection at a time. A job well done, I believe. It required a favor given or received, an innovative design, a friendly connection. Each connection was a brand building block. Building your brand is all about the connections.

In our industry, you see so many examples of this type of brand building: QuikTrip, Racetrac, Rutter’s, Nouria, Bucee’s, Parkland and Casey’s General Stores, to name a few. Do any of those names mean anything to you? As simple words, probably not, but the emotional connection from shared experiences means everything.

We like to say that your brand should be your North Star. All elements of your business should point to your North Star. What makes you different or unique? What emotion connects you to your customers? Who are you?

This is where I think AI will never replace the great creative firms out there. AI may be able to come up with more names, generically written papers and even songs, but can it understand the emotional side of the equation when it comes to an effective brand? I don’t think so. As we build our brand, as we nurture our brand, we should be very, very protective of that emotional connection with our customers. The human connection defines how you are perceived. Your brand is who you are.


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