A few weeks ago I moved into a new house.  It’s been both great and exhausting for me and my family.  Fortunately the exhausting part – all the boxes, dust (from painting) and the general sense of disorientation (“Do you know where the toothpaste is?”) – is temporary and the great part will endure.

One the frequent, early bumps in the road is discovering the array of small things that don’t work and deciding whether you need to fix them.  For example, in one of our new bathrooms, the tub drain doesn’t fully close, which didn’t seem like a big deal until we learned that that the only way to fix it properly was to completely open up the wall and install new plumbing.  This is firmly in the “you gotta be kidding me category” and a project that we absolutely want to avoid, though when confronted with the notion that a bathtub might not be useable (ever!) you quickly start thinking through how much a drain you can close is actually worth to you.

Before capitulating to yet another project, my wife cagily bought an $8 Oxo tub stopper in an attempt to avoid the ~$1,500+ project.  It was sort of a running joke with the knowledge that we’d soon be showing the thing to the plumber and the tile guys and all laughing.

Except that, amazingly, it works beautifully.  As in I’m-never-going-to-replace-this-thing beautifully.  So, no need to open up the bathroom wall.

We were subsequently frustrated with the setup in the kitchen sink – another minor annoyance.  Volia!  The $9 Oxo drain cover saved the day.

The Oxo brand promise, as I understand it, is amazingly simple.  If the Oxo name is on a product it means, to me, that it is the best-designed version of a particular gadget at an affordable price.  Since Oxo so consistently delivers on this promise, my decision about buying an Oxo product isn’t whether it will be good or about choosing between Oxo and a competitor.  I simply need to decide whether I feel like a particular gadget could be improved upon.  If not, I don’t buy the Oxo product (spatulas or can openers); if yes, I do (peelers and storage containers).

The reason brand conversations get so convoluted and end up feeling like wordsmithing exercises is because so often brands don’t stand for anything.  So instead of capturing what you stand for, or capturing how what you stand for needs to evolve or be sharpened, you instead end up pretending to stand for something and then writing pretty words around an idea that has no core and no truth.

Unfortunately, the branding team (and the firm they’ve hired) isn’t in a position to actually get the company to stand for something.

The next time someone suggests a branding exercise, a new logo, a snappier tagline, grab ten people in your company and ask each of them to tell you in simple, plain words: what do we stand for?

(By the way, I’m sorry to say I now find myself wishing Oxo made freezers.)