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Branding at the hands of most practitioners is 85% emotional.  That is to say, names, colors, shapes and taglines associated with a “brand,” are usually dictated by a few decision makers who either feel it or they don’t. Emotion is not unimportant, but often it’s way too important. There needs to be a lot more science in branding. Especially in brand strategy. A brand, i.e., logo, is not a brand strategy. A brand strategy is an organizing principle; one that allows brand managers and stakeholders to make marketing decisions. Marketing decisions that create everlasting value for a product or service.

While the physical brand or mark is what helps people identify a product or service, the brand strategy helps with deeper cognition.  With reasons to consider, like, prefer, buy and recommend. For these qualities we must turn to science. Brand strategy is about tangible evidence of preference. “I liked the ceviche because it was sweet. Because the salmon tasted buttery. Because of the perfect helping of herbs.”  Not because it tasted good.

Look at your brand strategy. Explore the science. Omit the fluff words: Quality, innovative, best, better. Mine the science.



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The Altimeter Group just rebranded according to Charlene Li, CEO. I’ve never met Ms. Li, but did do an analysts briefing with her (while she was in China) during my Zude start-up days. Influential doesn’t even begin to describe Ms. Li’s role in the technology business. She’s the Ester Dyson of the new millennium. That said, Ms. Li has fallen into the trap many have when referring to branding, or in this case, rebranding. Brands are not style and make-up. Not logo design and color. Brands are organizing principles anchored to an idea. A customer facing idea.

The Altimeter Group has altered its logo, PPT, newsletter format and, soon, will redesign its web site — but I’m not feeling a brand idea or brand strategy.  Disruption, social leadership and change are three words to describe the sandbox Altimeter plays in. And as for the Is of the Is-Does, they are definitely analysts. But I’m not seeing a strategy.

Ms. Li and team have been leaders in sharing information on social business strategies. And it is thought provoking, smart, transformative work. However, treating branding with color and design and not a strategy component is like saying social business redesign can take place by adding some Twitter, content managers, Yammer and a video production studio.

Hey Altimeter, What’s the Idea?  


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I’ve been in touch with a few tech CEOs over the past year and I know it is not easy being them; they are responsible for financing, product development, legal, the code, usability, hiring, business metrics and last but not least strategy. 


The true test of a great CEO, though, is what happens after these two words pass through his or her lips “major rebranding.” “Major rebranding” is code for we don’t have a focused strategy. Sadly, most rebranding assignments often yield a PowerPoint deck filled with marko-babble, a logo (nice), tagline (generic), a visual symmetry discourse and bill for some serious money.  Most of the bill, by the way, pays for tactics.


Branding is all about strategy. It is forward looking, consumer-facing, fresh, it pushes the culture (business or societal), and all the heavy lifting is done before any visual tactics or art are employed. The precursor of a branding idea is a suit strategy and it should reflect each and every element the CEO cares about (see first paragraph).  When the suit strategy talks to the CEO and makes him/her smile, the rest of the job can begin.


If you run into a CEO who when commenting about a rebranding project says “I’ll know it when I see it,” give the check back and run.  



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