According to Mark Forsyth’s ‘The Etymologicon’ the words ‘shit’ and ‘science’ have a shared root in the Proto-Ideo – European word ‘Skhei’ which meant to separate or divide, and came to mean ‘distinguish’. If you could tell two things apart then you ‘knew’ them.
So what? Well, in design strategy we typically consider ‘the competitive set’. But perhaps not closely enough – a quick audit, some topline conclusions, then back to the more interesting topic of ‘our’ brand. I think when we start discussing any brand, it tends to be like having a conversation with a massive egoist, who just wants to talk about themselves – “let’s talk about you now…what do you think of me?” And we as agencies and clients in the service of this brand allow the conversation to revolve around it specifically rather than its relationship to the category.
Do we pay enough attention to what makes brands the same, rather than different? Is this one reason that pretty much every craft beer comes in a brown bottle? (And yes, I know brown glass protects beer against sunlight, but there are alternatives).
To return to the word skhei, do we need to know our shit better? To really focus on the interchangeable similarities we take for granted, and be less lazy about defining what might distinguish any brand from its opponents? Because from air fresheners to air travel I am not sure that the differences we ascribe to the brands we work on are ever quite so clear to the people ultimately choosing between them.