The power of branding

Ever since I read “Brandwashed” I look at marketers with some suspicion. Ever since I read “The old rules of marketing are dead” I questioned their added value. “Branding is for cows” questions the effect of branding. Brian Solis (my old time favourite writer on social media), would suggest that there is an end to business as usual. Particularly for marketers.


Our clients struggle with marketing too. Its place in the organisation, the measurement of impact, its role in social media, innovation and HR. We have used books from a wide range of angles. From “resonate” (storytelling) to “Zag” and “Do-it-marketing” (no-nonsense marketing), from “The Shallows” (attention span and customer behaviour) to “Reality is broken” (gaming, engagement and product/service design).

Power branding

We are going to add “Power branding” to our stable. And marketers will be happy to know it is a classic marketing book about the power of the brand. As an asset, as a barrier to stem incumbents, it gives you time to innovate and as a way to retain staff and customers.

Branding as an investment

Steve McKee is adamant, a brand is an investment that will never depreciate.

  • Patents expire, software ages, buildings crumble, roofs leak, machines break, and trucks wear out. But a well-managed brand can increase in value year after year after year.
  • Coca-Cola is worth $75 billion. Google, IBM, and Apple brands are worth well over $100 billion each. According to CoreBrand, a consultancy that has tracked more than 1,200 companies in 47 industries for more than two decades, the average positive impact of the brand on a public company’s stock performance is 5 to 7%
  • 100% of marketing plans promise to generate growth, yet over the course of an average decade (to say nothing of recent years), more than half of all companies witness a decline in revenue for at least one year (and sometimes multiple years). The problem isn’t a lack of desire or ambition—it’s a lack of perspective, understanding, and insight into how to build and maintain a brand.

Branding adds to the perceived value

A 2009 Caltech study demonstrated that people believe expensive wines taste better, even when the prices of Cabernets ranging from $5 to $90 were randomly mixed. These studies reveal an interesting link between expectations and perceived value—a link brands like Lexus have used to great advantage. Why is a “perceived” benefit any less valuable than a “real” benefit? And how do consumers’ rational calculations interact with their non-rational instincts to lead them to the choices they make The more confused and fragmented the market, the more a brand makes sense. Why did you buy the TV you bought? Too much choice so you went for Samsung.


The best brands begin by asking “why”: Why do we exist? Why is our brand important? Why is investing our limited resources in branding more beneficial than investing in other aspects of our business? Every book we read talks about this. Mission, passion, purpose, values. Why, why, why, why? It is the platform or framework for guiding principles, it is why you and your staff care, it is the reason you exist. If you can’t formulate this, do not go any further.

The best lesson is alignment

The biggest lesson from the book, I think, is the importance of aligning your internal organisation (read the people that work in your company) with the brand values. The best brands begin with internal alignment. Great brands are great brands not only in word but also in deed. And that requires clear and long-lasting consensus among the management team (and ideally throughout the organisation). Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Consensus is the absence of leadership. Believe it or not, research demonstrates that something as mundane as a lack of alignment is one of the most common reasons why growth stalls in any company and every industry. If your brand has veered off course, it may be your team that’s in need of an alignment.

Lack of consensus

In research into the causes of corporate growth challenges, the author found that a lack of consensus among the management team (let alone the rest of the organisation) was the leading reason why companies fall off of and can’t get back onto the growth curve. The larger the company, the greater the importance there is to get to a clear, simple brand idea. It needs to become a rallying point for the entire organisation. It shapes the culture, it shapes business decisions, and it shapes behaviours. Straight from “The moment of clarity” or “The connected company”.

Internal branding is key

In his view companies that overlook internal branding are doing themselves a critical disservice. Every decision every employee makes has an impact, small or large, on your brand, and what you do internally can bridge the gap between perception and reality, promise and delivery, credibility and hypocrisy. Yet in most companies, internal branding doesn’t receive nearly the time, resources, or attention that external efforts do. Your most important target audience is the people who see your brand on their paychecks


Which is part of the “Who” (=audience)—Who is essential to our achieving our goals? To whom should we be directing our message? Whose hearts and minds must we win in order to succeed? Who loves you? Some of his tips:

  • No brand can be all things to all people
  • A brand is like a beam of light, which gains intensity with focus
  • No matter how different your customers appear, they have your brand in common. Find out why
  • True loyalty comes from the heart.
  • Loyalty is a state of mind, not a share of wallet.
  • Loyalty takes time to develop
  • Relationships are reciprocal
  • Trust is built on familiarity. And destroyed by exploitation
  • Don’t trust the client (feedback, market research, etc.)
  • Everything is people to people (to paraphrase David Ogilvy; “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife”)
  • The longer the sales cycle, the more important branding becomes
  • It’s a safe bet that if you’re not losing some customers because your prices are too high, your prices are too low

And emotion always wins

Show me a purchase made for 100% logical reasons, and I’ll show you a purchaser who is proud of his rationality—pride being the operative (and emotional) word. A feature can always be matched. A claim can always be mimicked. But an emotional sweet spot is something your brand can occupy all by itself.


He follows why and who with “What” (Strategy)—As in “what” your brand must represent to your target audience in order to accomplish your business objectives. Starting with the value proposition. If you can’t articulate your brand’s value proposition, your customers never will. If you can’t describe the essence of your brand in a single, simple turn of phrase, it’s probably an area in need of improvement. A simple tip he suggests; if you would write a book about your brand; what would the title be?  His tips:

  • There isn’t a category of product or service that isn’t subject to commoditization pressures.
  • Margin-driven brands focus on improving the perceptions of their products or services.
  • A product is functional; a brand is a friend
  • If your “what” isn’t highly relevant to your “who,” your brand might as well be invisible.
  • Market relevance is more important than market size,
  • Relevance is a continually moving target
  • Simplicity sells, complexity is the enemy of comprehension
  • You know it, and they know it, admit it
  • There’s no competition in a category of one
  • Win the heart and the mind will follow


He covers innovation too. If you are not different, you are not competitive, all business is an endless cycle of innovation and commoditisation and innovation prevents liquidation. Which means that the “what” has to include innovation. Step one in a continuous innovation program is to put in place an ongoing consumer discovery process. Or ask yourself “How would Nordstrom overcome this problem if it was in our business?” “How would Southwest Airlines approach this challenge?” A through; according to Cisco Systems, only 1% of every physical touchpoint that can be digitally connected has been connected.


At all times keep in mind that whatever claim you stake has to be consistently delivered on or it will flop, no matter how strong the idea. Which takes us back to internal alignment. The more narrow your target, the more narrowly differentiated your brand, the more internally aligned you are around it, the more it will offer real, lasting return.


How (Creativity)—Armed with the knowledge of what you want to communicate to whom, next comes the most mysterious aspect of branding: “how.” This is where intuition and instinct play as important a role. His tips:

  • Design is important
  • First impressions matter (you have one second)
  • Slogans are overrated
  • Don’t trust the research, the testing, the feedback
  • Less is more
  • Giving gets
  • Discounting is dangerous
  • Behaviour is NOT belief
  • Credibility is critical
  • A brand, like a bell, is defined by its tone. Don’t do alarm bell branding.
  • You can’t fake authenticity

If you wouldn’t do it at a cocktail party, don’t do it in an ad

Focus on one person at a time. Make eye contact. Listen. Don’t talk about yourself. Find what they’re interested in and make that the topic of conversation. Most of all, don’t be arrogant, boorish, or annoying. Following these simple rules will increase your odds of starting an interesting new relationship and decrease the chances you’ll be perceived as someone to avoid. Just like at a cocktail party, brands have to win people over, not bowl them over.


Where and When (Execution) — The author addresses these together as you dive into the specifics of execution

Alignment and integration

Southwest has consistently nurtured its brand internally as well, to the point that it’s now part of the company’s DNA. Branding isn’t just what you do. It’s who you are. The public enemy number one in today’s marketing environment: fragmentation. Integration is not simply slapping a common tagline onto all your ads, using a single colour palette, or force-fitting a message that’s suited for one medium into another (great television commercials rarely translate well to outdoor billboards, which in turn are very different from online banners). Integration means communicating a consistent identity from message to message, and medium to medium, and (more important) delivering consistently on that identity.


There may be no more commonplace where things tend to break down than the sales-versus-marketing divide. Customers these days are too mobile, too connected, and too informed to tolerate any gap between what one department says and another does.. Restaurateurs know what computer makers and fashion brands have come to understand and the rest of the world is now awakening to: Customer retention, client referrals, and profit margins can all be enhanced when sales and marketing are fully aligned. It’s where the game is won

Social media

In his view, social media is a river that runs 24/7, and once you establish a presence, it’s vital to keep paddling. Misunderstand social media and your brand will be misunderstood.


IBM reports that each day—every day—the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data. That’s a 1 followed by 18 zeroes; a billion billion; a million trillion. As immense as a quintillion is. By comparison, all of the earth’s oceans contain just 352 quintillion gallons of water; if bytes were buckets, it would take only about 20 weeks of information gathering to fill the seas. We’re swimming in so much data it threatens to drown. However the more there is to know, the more you need to know it.


He mentions measurement, metrics and ROI. He is not sure. His view is it’s usually at least three years before you realise the investment’s full effects.  As the world of marketing metrics becomes increasingly oriented toward instant gratification, it will be easier to make a short-term decision that’s not in your long-term interests. Branding takes times.

Marketing delight

I can see the marketers jump up in delight. Difficult to measure, investment rather then cost, important, takes time……. Which is why we will keep mentioning (and using)  “Branding is for cows” and “The old rules of marketing are dead”.


sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

3 thoughts on “The power of branding”

  1. Hi Ron, I’ve not read the book, and certainly it would be very difficult to argue with a lot of the points you have summarised from it. In support of his various arguments, and of course his view on ROI and Metrics, which according to work by Binet and Field in their publication from 2008, ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’, it can take 3 years or more for an organisation to see long term PROFIT gains from their marketing spend.

    I’d also strongly recommend ‘How Brands Grow’, by Byron Sharp. If any marketers are ‘sensitive’ about how they believe marketing works, he debunks many of their myths and backs it all up with solid, well researched science and marketing laws.

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