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August 19, 2003

Semi-permeable membranes... what have they got to do with branding? 

I hated biology at school. Mostly because the biology lab smelt so funny... although at the time I thought the teachers stank too.

As a result, my understanding of the subject is very fragmented. But I do recall the phrase "semi-permeable membrane" and lately is has come out of some dark filing cabinet of my brain. Because I think it has something to tell us about one of the challenges for organisations in the strange world we live in (as Tim blogs today).

Consultants used to talk of brands as nice solid things, and great energy would go into fiddling with the details of their presentation... as if they could be defined with clear edges. Trademarks would be used to police rigidly what was the brand and who could use it.

Of course, all that is old hat in these interconnected days. Brands are struggling with the reality that their edges are not hard, that their internal workings are increasingly transparent, and their efforts to protect their slogans through the courts look increasingly risible if not obnoxious.

At the same time, we do presumably need organisations of people to do things; there are some things that groups do far better than individuals. It's just that the groups can't be so tightly defined.

They need to have a semi-permeable membrane. In fact, as living things, they need to know when to open and share, and when to close and nurture. Somewhere in the biology lab there may have been some wisdom after all. As well as the funny pong.
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