Lead, Don't Follow

The problem with the word ‘Brand’ is that it has been rendered shallow and hollow over the
 years by its misuse and false promises. It’s constantly sold as a silver bullet to all problems by people who think it’s all about Logos, Straplines, Colour Palettes and Advertising Campaigns. In fact some even think that a new fresh Corporate Identity is all you need to tick the ‘Branding box’. It’s understandable, as the original meaning of branding came from marking your possessions with a symbol to stop others stealing or mistakenly acquiring what was yours.

But today, real brand building has a much broader meaning. Today we know that a brand can be a smell, a melody, a feeling, a disappointment, a love for, something to even die for. Take the ISIS brand for example: built over recent years into a recognisable global organisation, with a strong ethos, an online recruiting phenomena and unmistakable message; even the sound of its tailored songs and music has help to make it the infamous global brand it is today – all signed off with a simple black and white visual identity reproduced on flags and online banners.

The truth is, you don’t need branding. You only need it when your competitors do ‘branding’ the way it should be done.

And powerful branding is no longer exclusive to big corporations with large global budgets. Pete Frates was diagnosed with ALS in 2011 and challenged some friends to take up the Ice Bucket Challenge to strike out ALS. It became a global idea that resonated and inspired action with people who didn’t even know what ALS was. All it needed was a memorable logo/symbol and a catchy strapline and you could have made it an all year event in the same way Lance Armstrong created the ‘Livestrong’ brand that even supersede his own demise.

The point is, contrary to all too often poor agency advice, the best brands don’t start with a corporate identity. They start with a powerful ‘Generative idea’ that drives activities, behavior and the means to engage with customers. A core central idea that spawns all other ideas - born out of a greater sense of who you are, what you do and where you are going - a clear purpose. A brand created on a foundation and understanding of ‘who you are’ rather than ‘what you do’.

I often get invited into governments, global organisations and charities to meet with CEOs and business owners after they have been through a so called ‘Branding programme’ but still don’t seem to have met with their business objectives. The truth is creating a new corporate identity, won’t suddenly increase your revenue and won’t suddenly bring a new audience to your brand new website. It just doesn’t work like that. And that goes for seasonal campaings too.

In the case of banks and mobile companies, it’s the ones we hate the least that we end up choosing.

In the 1970’s it did. Like KLM, all you needed was one distinctive colour, A strong logotype and an obsession with ‘branding’ your logo onto everything you owned, including the wine you served onboard the plane. Today we don’t have that luxury.

Then we arrive in the 80’s and it was all about ‘saying’. Everyone wanted the ‘strapline’ that would sum up and define what you did. A cesspool of inflated over claims and broken promises issued until consumers woke up and got wise to the lies. Then at the turn of the century it was all about ‘Doing’. Then every organisation was forced to look at some form of CSR programme, but we eventually found out that all of these halfhearted attempts were no more than a token gesture and in most cases involved a very tiny percentage of corporate profits. To this day, organisations still use this method to try and increase their profile, but with a little research available to all of us, one soon finds out it’s still no more than a brand placebo aimed at shareholders and ill informed consumers.

The truth is this. There are very few big brands that we love. In the case of banks and mobile companies, it’s the ones we hate the least that we end up choosing. The love has gone and for them the future is no longer bright.


Facebook, YouTube and blogs are just tools. They are not the answer.

The brands we will love in the future are the ones who are less interested in ‘saying’ and talking less about their CSR ‘doing’, but instead embrace the concept of ‘being’. To do this you need to be generous in everything you do. You need to be authentic and you need great ideas that don’t just set out to ‘connect’ with people but instead truly ‘engage’ with people, meeting them where they are.

Facebook, YouTube and blogs are just tools. They are not the answer. Unless you truly engage with new ideas and the right content and invent and break out of your category, no one will listen or share your brand. And if no one is sharing your brand, you eventually die.