How does branding really happen? (1)

Among the comments on one of Hugh’s posts I found this gem from Ben Wharton (who doesn’t seem to have a website)(My emphasis)

As someone who has seen the most basic screw-ups occur when outside consultants, especially in the IT industry are brought in to bring a “New Way of Thinking” via a “New Way of Working” promoting “A New Way of Being” into an established business culture you’re staring down the double barrel of the most basic of issues.

While there are generalisations to be made about systems, it’s the multitude of exceptions that describe the realities of an individual system.

I like this statement. And it’s why I think so much of what is said about branding, especially in guides on how to do it, is of such questionable value.

I think what happens is that brands emerge out of the soup. After the event, a large number of Alpha Males lay competing claims to having invented them (success has many parents, failure is an orphan). As the history is written, many happy accidents are reinvented as the results of smart goal setting and thorough planning.

(I used to be a planner in ad agencies; every planner I ever met acknowledged that our real speciality was post-hoc rationalisation of creativity).

All this creates the Myth of the Goal. A story is told that suggests the only way forward for any grown-up organisation is to idealise a future state, compare it with a present state, and do the gap analysis. As Ben so shrewdly observes, that analysis of the present state will very likely fail to capture the multiple, apparently small, details that make any organisation what it is.

Nothing’s perfect, and such an approach has its uses, but I’ve become increasingly wary of idealised visions of the future, and failed acknowledgement of the present, which often serve to depress us and lower our energy and enthusiasm.

For some corporate types, the removal of the Goal Comforter may cause a good deal of anxiety. But for most people, I believe the choice to step more deeply into the present can be a source of creativity and satisfaction. Which raises energy levels, which makes stuff happen.

This is, of course, a far from complete argument. Think of it as a small piece and join it to something else if you like. I’ll be saying more shortly.

Meanwhile, if you’re Ben Wharton, please take a hat tip… and could I persuade you to start blogging?

3 thoughts on “How does branding really happen? (1)

  1. Johnnie Moore

    Is this emergent strategy? A post-hoc rationalisation of tactical decisions which lead to an end point that all insist was intended from the beginning.

    Can any organisation hierarchically structured do without some form of planning even if it is around the tactical?

    What replaces the goal? Is it a broader vision or general principles around which you experiment?

    (attempting to sharpen my questioning techniques) 🙂


    Paul, good questions to which there are no universal answers. So I’ll explore the territory rather than attempt definitive answers.

    I’m increasingly drawn to an Improv model of how stuff happens. (Improv folks talk about drama unfolding as a series of offers, which fellow players accept/build upon or block/reject.) Planning isan “offer” to which the response is not completely predictable. Clausewitz… no plan survives engagment with the enemy blah blah..

    Setting visions and principles, likewise, are management “offers” to stakeholders but sometimes get treated as if they are 1. the truth or 2. the rules.

    It’s like in blogging. I find what I write gets interpreted in all sorts of ways I don’t expect; it has impacts I would be silly to think I can control.

    A complex organisation with multiple stakeholders doesn’t work by everyone agreeing on a single goal; the goal for the checkout operator at Asda is different from the goal for the CEO or the fund manager who invests… what emerges is a compromise of their needs and no one can control that process, only influence it.

    I’ll keep thinking/blogging along these lines…

  2. larry borsato

    Embrace the present.

    Johnnie Moore supposes how branding really happens:I think what happens is that brands emerge out of the soup. After the event, a large number of Alpha Males lay competing claims to having invented them (success has many parents, failure is…

  3. fouro

    Jonnie –

    Can I be persuaded to start blogging? I think the answer is yes. Of course the stumbling block on whether I actually claim my speaker’s corner in webspace or not is whether I believe I have something that others are truely intrigued by…

    I guess the hat-tip answers part of that question. Thank you for the quote.



    Agreed: Execution and salience of goals, their immediate reality can have differing impacts. But doesn’t the challenge of organizational goal setting falter when we try and be too specific?

    I think I’m paraphrasing you guys maybe, but if we generate a broad common understanding of what matters and what doesn’t, in people terms and applied to the aims of the business, the downstream conversations and unique executions (Cashier, Stocker or CEO) are really only spins on the larger, confirmed ideal or group ambition — goals are suggestions not gospel; secondary, not primary. Tactics, not strategies.

    It’s funny, I scribbled some earlier today on a similar conundrum, Johnnie: Valuation of things like customer service comes from the personal, compassion-centric nature of the commitment, not some turgid job description written and vetted by HR *goal-setters.*

    Broad Intrinsic Goods lead to more actionable Intrumental Ones — Goals that people act on, not ignore, for deeper reasons. Goals for the sake of themselves are destinations, and therefore inherently boring and inert. As mileposts to a journey, however….


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