Branding as Soul, Karma, and a New World

The boom in social media, my happy association with some very smart Generation Y people, and a good book or two (Me 2.0, among them, and Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz) have me very intrigued with a broader application of branding.

I was taught to think of branding as a collection of visuals that should work together: logo, letterhead, signage, packaging, business cards, newsletters, websites.

More recently I’ve started to see it as something much deeper than look and feel; something as core to existence as identity.

  • With an individual, it’s the you that you and the world create together: not just your resume, not just you as you are for your family and friends, but you as you appear to others on the web, in your writing, the way you dress, your behavior at meetings, the way you speak, the way you deal with other people.
  • With a company, there too it’s what you and the world create together. Aside from the obvious trappings above, it’s your location, your space, the way you treat customers and employees, the decisions you make about pricing and service and product development, decisions you make about finance and investment and payments and receipts. It’s your accumulated integrity or (heaven forbid) lack of integrity.

Several religions incorporate a consciousness of a soul or something like it, that carries a person’s life deeds around on it like a permanent record. I was taught a Roman-Catholic-in-the-1950s version that had to do with sins as stains on the soul. I see it now as more of a Zen-Karma-like thing. But those two, and your idea of the same, don’t really contradict each other.

And I like that idea as it applies to companies, particularly your company and my company, small businesses, and personal businesses. Every small decision you make, every interaction with customers, every product detail, every financial transaction, is your brand. Cut corners, cheat people, stretch the truth, and it changes your identity as a company. Your accumulated brand, over time, isn’t what you say it is; it’s what you actually do that affects people and the world.

I am not just asserting as true something that I’d like to have be true. I’ve seen it in business over and over again. And I see it more than ever, these days, with the new business landscape making our businesses more transparent every day. Reviews, tweets, comments, it’s all something like word of mouth but magnified, like word of mouth cubed.

You want proof? Me too. All I’ve got so far is the increasing evidence that green environmentally and socially conscious companies do better on the stock market, in the long term, than the opposite. And lots of anecdotal evidence about companies that treated customers well, or badly, and were paid in kind.


  • Drew Schiller says:

    Tim, there is an excellent write up today on Mashable about how is building their company through branding. Their model seems to be successful ($1 billion + last year), and it is based almost completely on providing great service!

  • David says:

    Flippin ace. If ever a post worthy of a tweet and more.!

  • Tim Berry says:

    Thanks Drew, nice addition. The brand committee is an interesting idea.

  • Drew Schiller says:

    Glad to see you’re taking a broader branding view, Tim! Coming from a background owning a graphic design company, I can tell you that branding is much more than the visual aesthetic. There is nothing more frustrating than creating a beautiful visual identity for a company, only to have them trash what that design stands for with poor service and selfish policies. That is why my brand consulting services now focus more on creating a great customer experience than on creating a strong visual brand.

    Proof that branding works is more qualitative than quantitative, but you’re right, companies that succeed (especially in this economic climate) are delivering more to their customers than a product. They are delivering great service and customer-focused policies that add existential value to the brand. And consumers will always buy brands that have more value.

    One of the ways I help my clients measure their brand is to setup a brand advisory board made up of a few of customers from the target market, and several people who are in complementary industries. The brand board meets quarterly and discusses their experiences with the brand as well as with competitors’ brands. It’s not quantifiable, but it does provide a simple way to measure the effectiveness of and have insight into your brand over time.

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