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April 24, 2004



Great blog!
I too am tired of the way the word ‘brand’is thrown about. I would prefer using the word ‘self’ to brand or even the word ‘essence’. I think over time, the company loses track of the where the word came from in the first place!
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Jennifer - I'm thrilled to have stumbled across this blog as I was researching definitions of brand, branding, internal branding, etc...and trying to determine when and how this term originated because I, too, struggle with the term "brand". In my past life in my corporate role, I recall the marketing department evolving into what is now referred to as the "Brand team." With competition in most markets intensifying, suddenly we had to care about more than just attracting customers, we also had to satisfy them so they'd return. Hence, the increasingly popular buzz words "customer experience". For some reason, this customer experience responsibility still resided under marketing's jurisdiction, as if it were a marketing initiative, rather than a way of life. Rather than breaking down silos and creating a more inclusive, collaborative approach to brand building across the organization, it just seemed to give marketers more power. Branding, despite popular belief, is NOT a marketing term, it's a business term! Branding is the responsibility of the entire organization. It works interdependently with strategy and culture. I love Tom Asacker's comments because I don't know how you can separate brand from strategy, operations, and human resource management. A brand that makes empty promises is a failed brand. Marketing is simply the communication devise used to express the brand and attract the consumer. You can tell the consumer whatever you want about your brand, but if you don't walk your talk, your customer walk away.

rajesh sahadevan

A lot of client misperception about brand being a bells and whistles kind of thing emanates from the history of agencies being one of the key caretakers of that function. A very superficial approach very often ensured that senior management had little time for it and marketing communications managers along with a senior executive in an agency became the most frequent users of this term.

The era of product brands accentuated this further. With a return to corporate branding in our part of the world ( India), this trend and negativity associated with the word brand is being slowly reversed. The CEO becoming the brand manager is now a reality in many Indian companies which we have worked with. In all these cases, clearly the term has gone far beyond its fluffy connotations.

But having said all of that it is great food for thought. Brand vs self. Wonderful thought Jennifer.

In fact, a commonly used term by some consultants in india is customer centred business strategy. It is bit long winded but i guess it is more clear than brand strategy. Hoping to avoid all the improper connotations that the word brand carries, as is mentioned in your post.

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David St Lawrence


You are dealing with a complex problem, the metamorphosis of an ancient term into a meaningless series of abstractions, by people who do not understand the term brand, or want to alter its meaning for personal gain.

Substitution of a more "acceptable" or "meaningful" term may seem to work at first, but will quickly generate more confusion.

I do not want to see your weblog morph into "What is your self mantra?" in the near future.

You have so much to contribute and present your ideas so lucidly that I'm sure you will conceive of a way to communicate the essence of branding to CEOs. Perhaps you will have to resort to metaphor or analogy in order to bridge the communication gap.

I agree that you cannot hit them over the head with the "B" word too often or their eyes will glaze and they will tune you out. I am sure that you can present a scenario they can understand, and that piques their interest, then suggest some ways the scenario can develop properly or turn into a nightmare - all without using the "B" word.

After all, what you need are successful clients, they don't have to understand why you are so insightful.

It's like selling any product or service. The customer generally buys because of the benefits, not because you have great sounding features. Have you tried presenting the customer recognizable benefits without using the term branding?

Michele Miller

I'm loving this discussion. Dave Young beat me to it on the reference to Roy Williams' recent writing on "essence."

Ah, the constraints of confining language. The word "brand" is in of itself a label, is it not? Yet I continue to use it myself for lack of a better term... yet.

I really like your thoughts on the "self," Jennifer. When talking about corporations, the dilemma is that even when meant differently, the suits can take "self" to apply to high-level management (individual ego). I do wish we could use the word "essence" a bit more without being implicated in some kind of spiritual mission conspiracy.

Looking forward to what others have to say, and to more of your thoughts on this. Could this be the beginning of a new school of thought? :)

Brink Trammell

Isn't the brand just the abstraction of the self we want customers to believe? That's cynical, and a good case can be made that if 'brand' and 'self' are synonymous, then the company is being true to itself and its customers, giving it better long-term prospects. But we all project ourselves differently around different people. The abstractions we present to the world allow us to tailor (and hopefully optimize) how the world sees us. We might wear a suit to the board meeting even if we wear sandals to work.

Peter Caputa

I agree that the word brand has lost meaning and is pretty blah in describing all of the activities and touch points that are required to create a "brand" that customer's respect. And I certainly agree that the connotations of self goes a long way in describing all of that. However, I guess I have a bit of too much of an anti-corporate ethos in me to give personification to a corporation. And I don't think a company can ever have the complexity that a person possesses. I do get your point, though.

Yvonne DiVita

The idea of brand brings up the Burger King Chicken ad that's making the rounds of the net. It's humorous, a fun two or three minute distraction in an otherwise hectic day, but is it helping Burger King build brand awareness, as one post on another blog asked? I doubt it. The controversy over whether the video is just this side of online porn movies casts a gray cloud over its effectiveness...yet, since the verdict is still out on how well it achieved its purpose (reports said it was a branding effort), I would say associating the company 'self' with this interactive ad could backfire because no one I showed it to could successfully identify what it was for. Not even the tiny little text link at the bottom of the video which went to BK's website, helped.

I think Jennifer is on track with a powerful way to look at branding. If we all recognize that our company is US, it represents US, not an intangible 'something', but the real live person we are, we'd be more thoughtful in our branding efforts. At least, I like to think so.


an interesting exercise for a company wanting to identify its core values/identity would be to design its own coat of arms:

i'm 1/2 scottish, so i couldn't resist this seemingly random suggestion ;-)

David Foster

OK...for starters: How do you avoid have the discussion of corporate "self" slide down into the same kind of feel-good, chest-thumping generalities that afflict most "mission statements?"

David Foster

OK...for starters: How do you avoid have the discussion of corporate "self" slide down into the same kind of feel-good, chest-thumping generalities that afflict most "mission statements?"

David Foster

Very thought-provoking. "Brand" often comes across as a facelift or even a mask, rather than a real essence. I need to think about this some more.

Possibly relevant: there's a Mike Hammer article in HBR about operations improvement as a strategy. Haven't read it yet but looks interesting.



Tom Asacker

Great blog once again Jennifer. And your frustration was inevitable.

I too have grown weary of the word brand and the many brand distinctions, e.g. brand-inside, being bandied about by consultants in their attempt to enlighten executive management.

As a prime example, I'm speaking Monday at IIR's "The Business of Marketing Strategy" Conference in Boston. They are running four concurrent tracks. My presentation falls under the Strategic Leaders track. Take a look and see if you see the problem that the experts perpetuate:

1. Strategic Leaders: Sessions, led by gurus and C-level practitioners, are specifically geared toward high-level business leaders. Topics discussed range from building loyalty and developing breakthrough channel strategies to understanding the value profit chain and executing your growth strategy.

2. Brand Building: Positioning and maintaining your brand is at the core of marketing strategy. Hear from industry "greats" about the newest ideas in building your brand to ensure business success.

3. Customer Experience Management: Discover why some organizations have loyal customer followings and what you can do to ensure you're delivering the best possible experience to your fans and advocates.

4. Innovation: How do you reinvent your business strategy to help create a better, more profitable future for your company? These sessions illustrate, from a marketing perspective, the powerful implications of innovative thinking.

Distinctions galore!!!

I'm not sure what the answer is. I like your attempt with "Self," but I don't believe that it will resonate with MBA's and CFO's. Know what I mean?

If we are going to abandon “brand” as the holistic combination of corporate strategy, innovation and execution, we must find a metaphor the easily connects to an existing business concept. And I’m not sure what that is. But I'm working on it. ;)

Stephen Macklin

An interesting question, "What is your corporate self?" It is one I would like to pose to senior management where I work. I would be especially interested in how they feel their recent decision to close three U.S. manufacturing facilities fits within their vision of the corporate self.

I personally agree with their decision on the closing from a business perspective. The products in questioned are already being manufactured in company facilities around the world. Closing their most expensive factories will result in savings of about $25 million annually. But I doubt corporate self is a perspective they stopped to consider.

But since I am one of the lucky who is not scheduled to be out of a job, I think I'll just keep quiet.


That's a great angle; I really like "self" over "brand". Another possibility that sounds better but perhaps isn't so applicable is "spirit" - "an animating or vital principle".


Another Roy Williams follower!

This is a great post by Jennifer. It brings up a recent story that has been dominating CNN and the Lou Dobbs show -- OUTSOURCING.

Only recently, Dell decided to bring back call centre operations to the USA (some, all?) from India. Perhaps, response time was unsatisfactory or the customer support wasn't up to par - don't know the entire story.

Apparently, Indian Dell staff was trained to sound American, have 'active content' tools streaming on their PCs with local weather, news etc etc. related to the caller's city/state -- all in the name of...what? Lower Costs? Enterprise suggests that 'better' paying jobs will be left to the superior North American workforce.

Sadly, this outsourcing experience (at least, with call centres) proved damaging to the 'Dell experience' of buying direct by telephone. Corporations spend so much money computing input costs (labour) that they overlook the longer term impacts of disjointed 'operations'. I've read many stories about the horrible experience at some online/buy direct vendors. While corporations attempt to profit from low cost inputs, they damage their brand, in the long run.

The brand is EVERYTHING -- it isn't a 'marketing' thing only. The minute your CEO starts to 'shift' the responsibility to marketing rather than view all actions as a holistic effort, the brand suffers -- and this is about what Jennifer calls the 'corporate self'. When departments or employees are marginalized into silos or operational units to make the entire machinery work, you will find kinks and breaks in the entire chain. I've seen this happen between developers and marketers all the time --- a simple lack of respect for the other -- a simple disrespect for the end user -- a simple disrespect for management -- or the call centre --or the front lines leads to the problem many companies face. A lack of corporate self.

Convincing today's CEO that marketing isn't fluff is difficult. Gee, I don't get this same impression from Steve Jobs and his iPod machine. Apple survives on brand equity and marketing -- its technology is comparable to many other products -- what they deliver -- a holistic solution and a corporate self (a brand) that many consumers want to adopt.

It's about adoption, isn't it? Sure, I can get a Roxio player anywhere, anytime, or even an RCA Lycra mp3 player...maybe even a Creative's, uh, kinda boring.

David Young

Nice observation. I agree with you on the word "brand".

Roy Williams had a recent memo on "essence" that I think is a good term to use.

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